A request for a new 120-foot emergency services communications tower was unanimously approved to be sent to the Long Range Planning Committee by the Board of Selectmen during its meeting on May 19.
The proposed monopole tower would replace the current 100-foot lattice tower that stands behind the Redding Police Department and serves as the communication hub for the police, all three fire departments in town and emergency medical services (EMS). The highway department radios also use the frequency from the tower.
An estimated cost for the replacement is about $300,000.
During the selectmen’s meeting, Redding Police Chief Douglas Fuchs, Redding Fire Chief Ron van Oostendorp and Georgetown Fire Chief Mike Heibeck expressed concern for the current tower and supported a new one. A letter sent by the fire chief at West Redding also supports a new tower.
Mention of the tower replacement came during the first budget workshop in January. Chief Fuchs said that while an engineer from Northeast Communications was on the property he mentioned that the tower looked old and overloaded. Upon inspection, Chief Fuchs said the tower is older by most standards and overloaded.
Chief Fuchs said if the tower were to fail, all easily maintained emergency communication would be gone. Police could set up a temporary remote tower in the case of an emergency but it would not support the highway department and about 50% or better of communication with the fire departments would be lost, he said.
The police department operates on high band frequency and the fire departments work on low band. At some point the low band radios will no longer be supported, said Chief van Oostendorp.
“We need to be proactive instead of reactive,” said Chief Fuchs.
“I’m amazed the tower is still standing,” said Chief van Oostendorp.
For the fire department, he said that tower is its “lifeline.”
Chief Heibeck said that the most important thing for any emergency service is communication.
“If that goes down, then it all goes down,” he said. “We need to be proactive, stay ahead of the game.”
Selectman Leon Karvelis asked about the option of having one main tower vs. several shorter satellite towers.
First Selectman Julia Pemberton said she heard of a town in the state that is disguising towers as silos or water towers so they are more aesthetically pleasing.
Chief Fuchs said the estimated price is for a monopole structure — the cheapest way to do it.
“We have no desire to weigh in on the look and feel of the tower. The cost which I provided was the most economical and efficient way to accomplish this project. There are many options — all of which will add significantly to the cost of the project,” he said.
A lattice structure will also cost more than a monopole, he said.
Selectman Michael Thompson asked if the police department is on state designated historic land and if that would affect the tower replacement and height.
Chief Fuchs said when the department had its addition put on a couple years ago, that issue didn’t come up.
Mr. Thompson also asked Chief van Oostendorp if they knew when low band radios would not be supported anymore.
He said it would be a while but the cost to replace all three fire department radios with high band all at once would exceed the cost of replacing the tower.
With at least 50 people per department, all their radios, portables, truck radios, pagers, etc. would all need to be replaced at once, he said.
The cost to replace all radios and forms of communication from low band to high band would cost upwards of $1 million, said Chief Fuchs.
Chief van Oostendorp said having to replace the low band radios with high band can’t be phased in and would need to be a wholesale change.
Chief van Oostendorp also said that replacing the system would affect each department’s budget and possibly fire taxes.
“These are two distinct issues — the tower needs to be replaced and the radios need to be replaced,” said Chief Fuchs.
Regardless if the fire departments went from low band to high band frequency, the tower still needs to be replaced, he said.
Chief Fuchs said the deficiency in the tower was found during a preventive maintenance check on the entire system.
“It is in serious need of replacement and we do not want to be in the position where it becomes an emergency,” he said.
The current tower has long exceeded its 20-year expectancy, he said.