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The Lebanon County Commissioners unanimously approved Thursday a $1.3 million land purchase for construction of a new 911 Center in North Cornwall Township, which will be the largest expenditure in the county’s history by the time the project is completed.

Although previous discussions have focused on the total cost, those figures are currently “pie in the sky,” according to Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz. (The approval to acquire 10.45 acres from Richard and Carol Kreider at 1821 Cornwall Road for the 911 Center was one of two major county property transactions the commissioners approved at Thursday’s meeting. Read about the other transaction, involving Cornwall’s Camp Shand, here.)

Jamie A. Wolgemuth, Chief Clerk/County Administrator, said the commissioners “have seen some numbers” that are “estimates based on current (building) designs.” After he said that no borrowing has occurred, Chairman Bob Phillips added that the land purchase is the “first step in the commitment and discussion is needed to get to a (final) number that they would want to put out there (for public knowledge).”

Although costs are still preliminary, the commissioners do have a timetable for the project, according to Wolgemuth, with actual construction taking about one year from start to finish. The 911 Center will also house the county’s hazmat operations and serve as the administration offices for the county’s Emergency Management Services.

Read More: County 911 Center project kicks off, Beers and Hoffman named architects

“I’m gonna say a year from now,” Wolgemuth said, when asked when groundbreaking would occur. “We’re two years away from a turnkey center. Because in addition to the structure itself, it is also going to entail (the purchase of) the radio system, which is approaching 15, 16 years old now. So, we have some compliance issues that we have to step up to on that.”

Read More: Lebanon County Department of Emergency Services making improvements to 911 call system

Wolgemuth announced about $900,000 of the $1.3 million needed for the land purchase is already in county coffers.

“The previous board had borrowed funds to construct a backup facility for 911, which never came to fruition,” Wolgemuth said. “Those funds, those proceeds are still on hand. In order to purchase this property, we will simply utilize those that were borrowed for the purpose of 911, approximately $900,000 left in that fund, so you will need another $400,000 from capital for this.”

So this portion of the project will be financed with existing revenue.

“This particular part of the project would not be from borrowed funds. Beyond that (the land purchase), this will be a borrowed project,” said Wolgemuth.

Wolgemuth added that the county’s debt service is a “very good position” to get financing for the building project, especially when measured against counties whose budgets are comparable to Lebanon’s.

“The county with an annual budget of $85 million has about, after today’s debt service payments, $14 million in total principal, which is a very, very good position to be in,” Wolgemuth said. “And that was acknowledged in our bond rating from Standards & Poor’s earlier this year.”

The excellent rating means the county has a lot of capacity to borrow funding for the project, Wolgemuth added.

“It’s not something this county does very often, but without question this will be the largest project the county has undertaken, cost-wise,” Wolgemuth said. “The technology that’s involved, the type of construction that a building like this is built with is expensive, there’s no question about it. It’s right in the neighborhood (cost-wise) from the building of a jail, the building of a hospital.”

After the land-purchase vote, Chairman Phillips called the project “generational” and said it will impact public safety for many years to come. Commissioner Litz said this is the beginning of a long-held wish to see a new 911 Center come to fruition. Commissioner Bill Ames made no comment about the project.

The sales agreement does contain one caveat.

“This agreement allows for the county to have 90 days from the date of the agreement to conduct a due diligence feasibility study that if it’s not in the county’s best interest to proceed, it will become null and void,” Wolgemuth siad. “I will add to that we have done some pretty significant due diligence to this, so I don’t expect this to be anything but a usable parcel.”

At the end of the 90 days, if the county does proceed with the project, it will pay a $50,000 fee applicable to the purchase price that is non-refundable if the county were to decide to not complete the transaction.

Prior to voting to purchase the land, the commissioners approved a resolution to seek condemnation proceedings, which won’t be executed because of the pending sales agreement.

“This facility is for the purpose of public safety, the safety of the community and if you were not able to acquire the land through a sales agreement, which you were, this resolution says you would have been willing to do it via condemnation procedures,” Wolgemuth said.

The resolution was adopted by the commissioners based on the advice of the county’s legal counsel.

“Again, that (condemnation) won’t be necessary because there’s an arms-length agreement with the seller, but it was part of the negotiation in order to resolve some of the extra costs that are typically involved with the transaction, if it’s done in lieu of condemnation, we all realize some savings there,” wolgemuth noted.

During discussion that preceded the approval of the condemnation resolution and the land purchase, Wolgemuth said there was a long process that led to the decision to acquire this particular parcel. County officials vetted about 10 locations, based on numerous criteria, before deciding on the North Cornwall site.

“The first part is to develop a concept of what the building needs to be, and housed and to function, which led to what kind of parcel and where the parcel of land needs to be,” Wolgemuth said. “We did an extensive search, we ultimately considered about 10 different properties throughout the county with a lot of criteria.”

That criteria consisted of factoring both nearby manmade and natural hazards, access to technology and and access to services, among others.

The purchase of the 10.45 acres at a cost of $120,000 per acre is real estate that’s drawn the interest of developers over the years, according to Wolgemuth.

In 2009, Walmart decided to forgo a 2003 plan to build a 250-square-foot supercenter on 38 acres. The North Cornwall Township supervisor had approved the conditional-use application in 2005, but a citizens group challenged the decision in court, although it was later upheld by Commonwealth Court.

Another potential suitor for the land was Springwood Developers, who had shown interest in the real estate in 2013, according to Wolgemuth.

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Full Disclosure: The campaigns of Bill Ames, Bob Phillips, and Jo Ellen Litz were advertisers on LebTown during previous election cycles. Ames Home Services is a current advertiser on LebTown. LebTown does not make editorial decisions based on advertising relationships and advertisers do not receive special editorial treatment. Learn more about advertising with LebTown here.

James Mentzer

James Mentzer is a freelance writer whose published works include the books Pennsylvania Manufacturing: Alive and Well; Bucks County: A Snapshot in Time; United States Merchant Marine Academy: In Service to the Nation 1943-2018; A Century of Excellence: Spring Brook Country Club 1921-2021; and Lancaster...


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