LARGO — Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri unveiled the department’s brand new public safety and office complex last week, taking members of the Board of County Commissioners and the media on an extended tour of the $81 million facility on Thursday.
The complex, which is located at 21750 Ulmerton Road, adjacent to the old PCSO headquarters, houses the Emergency Operations Center, the county’s 911 call center and a new administrative center for the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. In addition, it will serve as the command center for the entire county in case of an emergency.
The massive 218,403-square-foot facility was designed to withstand Category 5 hurricane force winds and features state-of-the-art technology and equipment. Built with Penny for Pinellas sales tax, the construction took nearly two years.
“This complex replaces the old Pinellas County Sheriff’s administration building, which was built in the 1950s,” Gualtieri explained. “This modern building replaces something that was very antiquated.”
“There is nothing like being here after walking in that old space and realizing how much this place was really needed,” he continued. “ This facility wasn’t a question of want, it was a question of need.”
After the introductions, Gualtieri took the group on a tour of the three-story facility, pointing out the many uses and benefits of the building. It occupies nearly 30 acres of the 41-acre property and is one of the highest points in the county and is outside the county’s evacuation zones.
The first floor of the facility houses mainly common areas, while the second floor and third floors are home to some of the complex’s most critical components including stations for 118 emergency planners from county and state agencies and others including the county’s health department, the Red Cross, the Florida Highway Patrol and the U.S. Coast Guard. The floors also hold a high tech data center, the county’s consolidated regional 9-1-1 center and training areas.
Gualtieiri said he believes the 9-1-1 center, which occupies a huge section of the third floor and was built to accommodate 96 individual positions for multiple agencies, is one of the most important aspects of the new complex.
“Pinellas County receives a half a million 9-1-1 calls per year, plus another 300,000 10-digit (emergency) calls,” the sheriff explained. “That’s almost a million calls a year coming into Pinellas County emergency lines.”
The new facility will dramatically improve the county’s ability to coordinate its response to emergency calls, Gualtieri said.
However, the sheriff voiced frustration that Tarpon Springs, Pinellas Park, Largo and Clearwater have maintained their own 911 police dispatch.
Callers in those communities needing police help have to be transferred to a police dispatcher in that city.
That often leads to callers hanging up before they have repeated details of their emergency, leaving dispatchers unable to convey crucial information needed to assist police and firefighters, Gualtieri said.
“The cities need to get on board with this. The center will provide better services for citizens so they can get help immediately and not have to tell their story multiple times in an emergency,” the sheriff said. “This should be a no-brainer.”
Commissioner John Morroni got Sheriff Gualtieiri’s point loud and clear. He said that he would like to formally bring the matter to the attention of the Board of County Commissioners.
“The consolidation of the police, fire and EMS is the thing of the future, and this building is what’s happening now in order to keep our cities safer,” Morroni told the Gazette while noting the project came in well under the allocated $225 million budget.
“I think after today the Board of County Commissioners is going to get together and see what we can do to get everybody on board.”
After the tour, Commissioner Norm Roche praised the new facility and said it was a perfect example of taxpayer funds being used in the right way.
“It was long overdue and a definite necessity,” Roche said as he stood in front of the building’s towering entryway.
“Certain services are made for a countywide structure, and this is one of them,” he added. “Facilities like these are what taxpayer dollars should be spent on.”