Council approves expenditures for long-overdue dispatch center

A dispatcher is frequently the first point of contact that a member of the public has when requesting assistance from City of Piedmont first responders (image from Piedmont City website)

Agreeing with the city’s police and fire chiefs that a new, improved and expanded emergency dispatch center is long overdue, the City Council on Tuesday approved spending almost $300,000 for architecture and engineering design services for a new Piedmont Dispatch Center.

San Diego-based COAR Design Group was tapped for the work to design a space that can give dispatchers more room and can accommodate next-generation dispatch technology Piedmont will be moving toward in the near future. The budget for the project is not to exceed $296,555. 

The Piedmont Police Department has occupied the lower level of Veterans Memorial Hall since 1983. That building was built approximately 70 years ago, and doesn’t comply with the Essential Services Buildings Seismic Safety Act of 1986, Piedmont Police Chief Jeremy Bowers said. With Piedmont set to grow, dispatchers’ workloads figure to grow, too. 

While Bowers said virtually all city-owned buildings in Piedmont are in need of major renovation, the dispatch center is in a category of its own.

“We are way past the time in addressing the inadequacies of the (dispatch center),” said Bowers, noting an envisioned new facility will be less state-of-the-art than simply able to move the city’s dispatch operations into the future. “It is critical we address this now; we cannot wait another five to 10 years.”

Added Piedmont Public Works Director Daniel Gonzales, “Right now, we feel that everything that is essential can be done within our budget.” 

In October, the City Council allocated almost $2.4 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding for capital projects in Piedmont, with the dispatch center project being the top priority.   

Highland/Guilford Steps rebuild, take two

The city has, for a second time, approved a contract to rebuild and renovate the Highland/Guilford Steps on the eastern tip of Piedmont Park will soon get a thorough rebuilding and refurbishing, with the approval by the City Council Tuesday night to approve a $388,000 overall project budget.

The work is set to include reconfigured colored concrete steps and landings with a non-slip light broom finish, replacing worn out wooden railroad ties used as steps; decorative metal handrails on both sides of the steps and landings; a new small pedestrian plaza with a permeable-paver surface to allow surface run-off to help recharge groundwater; plus added commemorative benches and trees and other amenities.

In the 10 months since the first construction bid was approved, costs have risen from an estimated $225,464 to an estimated $310,000 now.  

Tuesday’s approval was the second time the council approved a construction budget for the Steps project, and the second time a contractor was approved. In November 2021, the council awarded the Steps contract to HM Construction, Inc. of Hercules, and approved an overall construction budget of $295,010. Work was to have started in January, but never did, and the city later terminated its contract with HM, a city staff report says, unable to establish communications with that company.

With HM’s departure from the project, the city of Piedmont filed a claim with ARCH Insurance, from whom the city had obtained a performance bond, routine as insurance against a contractor not completing a project. Under that agreement, ARCH found another qualified contractor, Bay Construction. The city still pays the $225,464 it originally agreed to pay HM, but ARCH is responsible for the additional costs of Bay Construction’s newly accepted bid; thus, ARCH will pay the difference – $84,536 – between HM’s contract and Bay’s contract for $310,000, Gonzales said.

The Piedmont Beautification Foundation, which had originally pledged $50,000 to the Steps project, has now boosted that amount to $82,000. The Piedmont Garden Club has also pledged $5,000 to the Steps project.

“This is a great example of a public-private partnership,” Vice Mayor Jen Cavenaugh said Tuesday.

City officials said last September that a main driver of the Steps project was when a resident living nearby tripped and fell on the deteriorating railroad-crosstie wooden stairs in 2020.

Work on the Steps is envisioned as starting in mid- to late October and be completed in early February 2023, weather permitting. 

City administrator recruitment

The council on Tuesday voted 4-0 to spend up to $35,000 to hire Bob Murray and Associates to begin the search for Piedmont’s next city administrator to succeed Sara Lillevand, who has said she intends to retire by April 2023. Murray was chosen over three other options. Selecting the Murray firm should offer the shortest timeline in selecting Lillevand’s successor, council members said. City Attorney Michelle Kenyon said she has worked with Murray, and its vice president, Gary Phillips, before and has been impressed with his work.

Contact Sam Richards at

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