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Lake Wilson a potential site for joint dispatch center

LAKE WILSON -- Representatives from Rock, Nobles and Murray counties toured the Schwan's Call Center in Lake Wilson Thursday morning as part of continuing discussion about combining county emergency dispatch operations into one central location.

The former school is one of two sites being considered as a joint dispatch center. The alternative is to bring the multi-county operations into the Prairie Justice Center's dispatch center in Worthington.

On Thursday, county commissioners and law enforcement personnel from the three counties met with Lake Wilson Economic Development Authority president Lee York to discuss features of the call center. Schwan's currently leases the facility, but call center employees will be moved to the Marshall offices within the next month. The earliest the building would be available for lease or purchase is Sept. 1.

During the tour, visitors learned of the access to two dedicated communication lines and the features of the building. Eight former classrooms were remodeled by Schwan's in 2000 for use as a call center. A lease agreement or purchase would include access to the gymnasium and locker rooms in the approximately 22,000-square-foot building.

Murray County Commissioner Kevin Vickerman said the lockers and showers would be useful for the Minnesota State Patrol, which is undergoing a transition to three base sites in Rochester, the Twin Cities and Duluth. Highway Patrolmen could use the facility for sleeping and showering as needed, he said.

Numerous questions were posed by Rock County Administrator Kyle Oldre as to the boiler system, roof, storm shelter and available generator at the Lake Wilson site.

There was also discussion regarding the location of Murray County's ARMER (Allied Radio Matrix for Emergency Response) towers, the closest of which is located at Chandler.

Murray County has completed installation but has not yet switched over to ARMER. The system makes it possible for agencies across the state to communicate with each other. It operates on a narrow-band width as mandated by the Federal Communications Commission. Both Nobles and Rock counties are hoping to implement ARMER by Jan. 1, 2012 -- one year before the FCC deadline.

"To me, I would like to have everything in place (with a joint dispatch center) so we don't have to have additional expense," said Oldre.

With $90,000 in grant money remaining for the feasibility study, Oldre asked the group Thursday what steps they wanted to take next in the process.

"We've got a little money in the bank," he said. "We want to spend it wisely and we want to keep moving."

Worthington Public Safety Director Mike Cumiskey said that once a site is chosen, the focus needs to move to developing a governance structure and policies.

"We've got a year and a half -- that's a very tight timeline," Cumiskey said. "I think we need to continue our meetings ... and really decide if we're in it."

Initial discussions regarding a joint dispatch center included nine counties in southwest Minnesota. So far, just Rock, Nobles and Murray counties have adopted resolutions of support to continue researching the feasibility.

Oldre planned a follow-up meeting in two weeks, during which they hope to hear comments from the sheriffs in Big Stone and Kandiyohi counties, which are working together in a joint dispatch system. Other items on the agenda include discussing potential engineers to work with on the dispatch center proposals, and looking at policy development.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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