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Lebanon County’s new emergency services center has a long way to go before becoming a reality, but the county commissioners’ recent approval for funding to go toward a planning assessment will help the project to inch toward that day.
Robert Dowd, Director of the Lebanon County Department of Emergency Service informed the commissioners at their first monthly Thursday meeting of the need to finance a formal assessment of the project.
The emergency service department is in the process of hiring two architects and a project manager to complete an assessment of the logistics and design of the project, and Dowd asked the commissioners for $20,000 for the project manager to move forward.
The commissioners have $1 million budgeted for the new facility, so all associated costs for now will be coming from that fund.
“We don’t know the scope of the project yet, so we need to put together a project assessment,” said Jamie Wolgemuth, county administrator.
The project is definitely in its infancy, and Commissioner Joellen Litz said it looks as though buying land and building a completely new center will be more feasible than re-purposing an older building.
“It’s looking more and more like we’ll have to build from scratch,” Litz said. “There are so many regulations for a building of this type that it would cost more to re-construct an old building than it would be to build a new one.”
Commissioner Bob Phillips noted that this project will likely be the biggest expenditure he’s seen as his tenure as a county official.
“It’s very important that we do it right for generations to come,” Litz said. “It’s been on the books for some time and I’m glad to see it’s finally happening.”
Beers and Hoffman are the lead architects, engineering is by Pelger Engineering, and the EADS Group is an architectural firm that has experience constructing buildings that need specialized safety features. Pelger Engineering is the construction manager.
Safety details for an emergency service center include mandated bulletproof glass and heavy concrete walls, for example.
Lebanon County is the only county in the Commonwealth that has its emergency services “911” call center in the basement of the courthouse, Litz said.
That’s not only inconvenient, it’s also dangerous, she said.
When smoke of an unidentified origin permeated the municipal building several weeks ago and led to the evacuation of all people from the building, the emergency dispatchers remained in the basement to call in fire engines.
The incident turned out to be less dangerous than originally thought, but could have had dire consequences.
“But had that been a big deal, the dispatchers couldn’t leave,” Litz said. “It’s just not a good situation; I’m glad we’re moving forward.”
In 1972, Hurricane Agnes also flooded the basement, creating the need for a new floor.
It’s just not the right place for dispatching emergency services, Phillips said.
Dowd said an optimistic timeline would see doors of the building opening at the end of 2021.
In another matter, Michael Anderson, director of Lebanon County Voter Registration, gave a presentation to the Board of Elections to show how the new voting machines will be used in the county.
All 60 precincts in the county will be seeing two new devices to help voters cast their ballots; the DS 200 Scanner and Express Vote.
Anderson brought one of the Express Vote machines with him to explain how voters will use the machines, starting with the next election on Nov.5.
Voters will have a choice of using a pre-printed paper ballot or they can be issued a ballot card to be inserted into the Express Vote voting device.
The card is bar-coded, and both types of vote will go through the scanner to be tabulated and counted, Anderson said.
“Voters insert ballots into the Express Vote and into the scanner,” Anderson said.
The scanner will allow people to under-vote, if they don’t want to cast votes for all available candidates, but the machines won’t let them over-vote, Anderson said.
If that happens, the ballot is “spoiled,” he said, and will be discarded. Then, the voter may try again.
Voters can use a finger or a stylus to vote, and they have the option of English or Spanish.
The voting machines will be shielded so people can have privacy while voting, he said.
People have the option to vote a straight party ticket, and they can do write-in votes, too, Anderson said.
Voters also have the option of using a zoom button, to make the print larger.
Some precincts will only have one voting device and some will have three, depending on the number of people in the precinct.
Two folks from the county department will be in each precinct to help with ballots and one person will be in charge of scanners.
Later in October, training will be held for poll workers, who will be on hand to assist voters with using the new machines, he said.
When the previous voting machines, the Ivatronic, were in place, 245 were used in the 60 county voting precincts. This year, only 94 Express Vote machines are available.
Each Express Vote costs about $5,000 Anderson said.
“There are fewer machines, but people can also vote by paper ballot,” Anderson said. “We are looking for feedback (on the whole process).”
At some precincts, people will have to decide if they want to wait for a machine or vote on paper, Anderson said.
Read Our Previous Election Systems Coverage…
Lebanon County meets state deadline to select new voting system (February 12)
New polling places for May 21 primary, last election before new voting machines (May 6)
Regardless of state funding, Lebanon County’s new voting machines will be ready for November (July 11)
County Commissioners approve USB backup drives for new voting machines (August 3)
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