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Votes

Public Safety, Transportation Complex is Planned

142,000-square-foot, public safety and emergency operations center planned for West Ox Road and the Fairfax County Parkway.

In the event of a crisis, natural disaster or other emergency, state and county representatives respond from individual locations scattered throughout the area. There's no central command facility where they all join together.

But if all goes well, that scenario will change with the construction of a 142,000-square-foot, public safety and emergency operations center off West Ox Road and the Fairfax County Parkway.

And that's just part of the picture. Fairfax County unveiled plans Monday night for a huge, new, multi-faceted, public-use campus. Besides the public-safety command center, it also includes VDOT headquarters and a county bus facility.

For now, it's called the West Ox Road Complex master plan, and county staff members presented the first details to the Springfield District/Fairfax Center Land-Use Committee. They hope to submit a formal application next month so the issue may go to the county Planning Commission in January.

TOTAL COSTS are not yet in, but the public safety building, alone, comes with an estimated price tag of nearly $80 million. So far, the county's earmarked $39 million toward the project.

The site is 78 acres along the southern and eastern edges of a 250-acre parcel. Just north of it is the county Fire and Rescue Training Academy, plus a VDOT maintenance facility, and to the west of them is a former trash dump, now landfill. And for years, the state ran Camp 30, a prison camp, on that land.

Looking ahead, the county used some 1988 bond money to purchase 31 of the 78 acres along the southern boundary of the site for a future bus facility. But specific plans for this property didn't really take shape until last summer when the prison camp closed.

"Around July 2002, the Department of Corrections vacated Camp 30, and we thought it would be a great opportunity to put our new, public safety operations center on this site," said Hossein Malayeri, project manager with the county's Building Design Branch. "VDOT was also interested in it for its Northern Virginia district office headquarters."

<sh>Public Safety Center

<bt>The public safety operations and emergency center would contain three main elements — a public safety communications center, a command center for 34 public-safety entities and a police forensics facility. VDOT and the Virginia State Police would be there, too.

"VDOT's traffic-management center in Arlington could be combined with our public safety center to better serve the public," said Malayeri. "We could also combine the state police communications center on Braddock Road to be most effective."

The public safety communications and command-center areas would be 80,000 square feet total, with another 38,000 square feet for forensics. VDOT's portion would be 19,000 square feet and state police would have 5,000 square feet.

* The county's 911 center is currently housed in an old elementary school in Annandale, which is far from ideal, said Malayeri. "Last year, it took 1,200,000 calls — and 52 percent were emergency calls. But it can't expand [where it is]; we need to move it to a new facility."

Police Capt. Jim Charron, the 911 center's director, agreed. He said the center now has 3,900 square feet, but will have 8,100 square feet in the new building. And he emphasized the critical need to move to a larger space with more staff and more modern equipment before the county's 911 situation becomes "vulnerable."

* The command center would normally have a small staff. But at the time of a crisis activation, directors or other representatives of nearly three dozen entities would converge here. These entities include: police, fire and rescue, health department, Virginia Power, American Red Cross, department of public works and environmental services, county executive's office, county public affairs office and Fairfax County Public Schools.

* The police forensics facility is also sorely needed. The current one is partly in the Massey Building and partly in the small annex near the jail. And approximately 1/3 of its space is consumed by locker rooms, restrooms and administrative offices, said police Capt. Dave Sommers. "In the new facility, that space will be shared with the other entities," he said, thereby freeing up more room for forensics work.

<sh>VDOT building

<bt>This structure would be on the 16.4-acre site of the old Camp 30 and would become VDOT's Northern Virginia district office headquarters. "It's now leasing space in the Avion [business park] in Chantilly, but wanted something more permanent," said Malayeri.

The four-story, 173,000-square-foot building would also house a 10,000-square-foot child-care center and a 5,000-square-foot cafeteria for VDOT employees.

A VDOT maintenance facility is already on site, but it'll be shifted to just west of the landfill, and three associated VDOT maintenance operations will move off the site entirely.

<sh>Bus facility

<bt>Proposed is a 36,500-square-foot, county bus-maintenance facility, plus a 13,000-square-foot bus operations and administration building. And there's room to double this space later, if needed. Initially, only 150 buses would be housed there, but this number, too, could be doubled.

"We don't have a bus facility for the central and western parts of the county — [that's why] we need this facility," said Andy Szakos with the county Office of Transportation. He oversees the Fairfax Connector buses and said this site would enable residents of areas such as Centreville and Penderbrook to get to and from the Vienna Metro station.

THE COUNTY and state designed the complex's master plan together. "We ran through about 20 different schemes and options with about 35 different people, including those who'd be using these buildings," said Greg Long, director of planning with Baker and Associates, the project consultant.

The county hopes to have the bus facility completed by 2006 and the public safety and VDOT buildings finished by summer 2007. Besides the plan's practical value, Long said the VDOT headquarters and public safety building would look attractive along West Ox Road and there'll be a "wall of trees" along the Parkway.

Malayeri said a study revealed that traffic generated by the uses there "would be spread out during the day and wouldn't have any impact on the nearby roads." But, knowing that significant commercial and residential projects are planned in the vicinity, land-use committee members and many residents attending Monday's meeting were skeptical.

Members Mark Cummings and Fred Bailey were concerned about the impact that residents of the Buckley's Reserve community, west of the site, and customers of the massive Fairfax Corner shopping/entertainment complex would have on West Ox, Parkway and Route 29 traffic.

Cummings, the committee chairman, asked for information about how VDOT intends to address "future traffic growth in the area and on the Parkway." And member Tom McDonald warned, "As soon as West Ox Road is widened, people from Herndon and Reston will come down it, instead of sitting on the Parkway."

Malayeri said the existing buildings — except for VDOT's new maintenance facility — on the site's southeast corner would be demolished to make way for the new structures. "The county will most likely buy the Camp 30 site from the state, build the VDOT facility and lease it back to VDOT," he said. "However, this is just one of the possibilities."

HE ESTIMATED the cost at $1 million and said the county needs to have a development agreement with the state by Dec. 31. Committee member asked how much the project would cost the county, but that figure is not yet known. Said Malayeri: "Each building will have different sources of funding."

So far, the public safety building received $29 million from last November's public safety bond, plus another $10.5 million from the county budget's FY 2003 surplus. Some $8 million of it will go to the forensics area, and $500,000 already went to expand the existing 911 facility until the new one opens.

Noting that the county might lease its computer/radio and telephone systems at the complex to raise more money, Malayeri said, "We'll look at lots of options." Meanwhile, said Carey Needham, chief of the Building Design Branch, "We're focusing on the master plan now. A lot of funding questions still have to be settled."