York County to move emergency operations center

Council approves $875,000 purchase of building just blocks from City Hall

York County plans to move its Emergency Operations Center to the former Rock Hill National Bank operations center on Black Street.

A purchase agreement York County Council authorized this week will allow the county to buy the old operations center at 149 W. Black St. for $875,000, York County Manager Jim Baker said.

The top floor of the two-story, 18,000-square-foot building will be dedicated to dispatch and emergency operations for now, giving emergency management a new home for the first time in more than 40 years.

If all goes well with the contract, the EOC could move its 38 full-time employees late this year, Baker said. The county's lease in Rock Hill's City Hall, where EOC has been housed since the 1960s, ends at the end of the year, and Baker said the city needs that space.

"We've been out of space for some time," said Cotton Howell, York County's director of emergency management. "We have people working in closets, in storage rooms and in their coats because some are the areas don't have sufficient heat."

The design of the current center also doesn't account for new technology, updated disaster plans and homeland security needs. The EOC operations room has less than half the space needed for an emergency, and the center lacks storage for necessary equipment, Howell said.

"With the county's growth, emergency needs grew," he said. "We're not able to meet the demands and be as effective as we need to because of space restrictions. In 40-plus years here, we've pushed the walls as far as they'd go."

The council discussed buying the building last year and built $2.4 million into this year's budget to cover its cost and renovation, Assistant County Manager David Larson said. But higher priority items, such as buying the Winn-Dixie on Heckle Boulevard for the Department of Social Services, came first. The county signed the contract on the nearly $1.4 million Winn-Dixie complex this month.

The Black Street building might house only emergency operations in the future, but for now the county could use the first floor for overflow or short-term space while completing other renovations, Baker said.

"We're busting at the seams and need some overflow space," he said.

The former bank operations center is more than 20 years old and has been vacant for several years. Baker said the county has an option to back out of the deal if it doesn't look like it can be renovated to meet its needs.

In addition to new heating and cooling systems, the elevator and other areas of the building could need work, Larson said.

The building's prior use makes it more appealing to both Baker and Howell.

"It has the structural integrity to be a certified EOC because it was a secure facility," Howell said. "It should be able to be transformed to meet our needs at a minimal cost."

The raised-floor data and computer room will make a suitable communications room, Baker said.

Bank of America was the last permanent tenant of the Black Street building that sits on 2.55 acres. Makers of the Revolutionary War movie "The Patriot," starring Mel Gibson, used the building for several months as a headquarters during filming in 1999.

A 2006 deal for the building with Insignia Group, a provider of Web-based automotive parts and accessory cataloging, fell through because of timing and renovation costs.

York County won't know how much money or time is necessary to upfit the former bank building until a review of the building is completed, Larson said.