Fairfax County took a giant step into the future Monday with the groundbreaking for a huge, new public safety and transportation complex.
It's on 130 acres on West Ox Road, across from Costco Plaza in Fairfax. And it could someday make a difference between life and death.
"We have a sacred obligation to our citizens to keep them as safe and secure as possible," said county Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerry Connolly (D). "We know Fairfax County and Northern Virginia could be a site for terrorism, and we need to be prepared."
The West Ox Complex will arise on the spot where Camp 30, a state-run prison camp, once stood. It'll cost an estimated $250 million and is a partnership between the county, state and Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
Comprising the complex will be a Public Safety and Transportation Operations Center (PSTOC), Bus Operations Center, Police Forensics Facility, Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) facilities and Virginia State Police Division 7 Headquarters.
It'll be built in phases, through 2025, with the capability for future expansion. Phase one will be the 114,000-square-foot PSTOC, with building construction earmarked for completion by November 2007. Estimated cost is $122.5 million — including $102.5 million for the county functions and $20 million for the State Police and VDOT portions.
Contained within PSTOC will be the county's Department of Public Safety Communications (911 call center), Office of Emergency Management and Emergency Operations Center. Also there will be the State Police Division 7 call-takers and dispatchers, plus VDOT's Smart Traffic Center comprised of its Traffic Management and Signal systems.
The county will use some 93,000 square feet of that building, and the State Police and VDOT will occupy about 21,000 square feet. The county police department's separate, $13 million, 33,000-square-foot Forensics Facility will be co-located with PSTOC.
CURRENTLY, if there's a crisis, natural disaster or other emergency, state and county representatives must respond from individual locations scattered throughout the area. There's no central command facility where they all join together.
But that will change when the Emergency Operations Center sets up shop within PSTOC. "The Emergency Operations Center will open, as needed, during emergency situations," said county spokeswoman Merni Fitzgerald. "And when there is an emergency, representatives from dozens of county agencies will come together to work seamlessly, 24/7, until it's taken care of."
Hossein Malayeri, project manager with the county's Building Design Branch, designed the West Ox Complex and "brought the vision together," said Supervisor Elaine McConnell (R-Springfield) during Monday morning's ceremony. Then, she said, Deputy County Executive Rob Stalzer took it from there.
"This has taken a lot of work, but our safety needs to be assured, in case there's ever another event [like 9/11]," said McConnell. "This facility will be unlike anything else in the country; we will be a model for others."
The complex will also include a new building for VDOT's Northern Virginia District Office, which currently leases space on Avion Parkway in Chantilly. It should eventually save the county money, according to Dave Evans, VDOT's project manager for the West Ox Complex.
As things stand now, he said, "We probably pay between $3 million and $4 million a year to lease the facility on Avion Parkway." Construction on the new building is to begin in mid-2008 and finish by December 2010.
This 195,000-square-foot building will house a 158,000-square-foot VDOT District Office, 22,000 square feet for the State Police Division 7 Administration (now on Braddock Road in Fairfax) and 15,000 square feet for a county-run daycare center and cafeteria for West Ox Complex employees.
BESIDES CONNOLLY, McConnell and Stalzer, a slew of dignitaries — including former Lt. Gov. John Hager; Supervisors Sharon Bulova, Braddock; Cathy Hudgins, Hunter Mill, Penelope Gross, Mason; Gerry Hyland, Mount Vernon, Linda Smyth, Providence; VDOT District Administrator Dennis Morrison; Virginia State Police Lt. Curtis Bailey; County Executive Anthony Griffin; county Police Chief Dave Rohrer and county Fire Chief Michael Neuhard — were also on hand for the groundbreaking.
"This is a special day," said Connolly. "Fairfax County has been involved in preparations for emergencies since Y2K, and they became accelerated after 9/11. And then we had the sniper attacks, tornadoes and Hurricane Isabel."
He said the complex aligns with the Board of Supervisors' two top priorities — transportation and public safety improvements. "It is not just about terrorism, but also about security at home and the ability of local government to respond," said Connolly. That's because, he explained, in all disasters, "The first responders are local government personnel — fire and police."
Rohrer said the complex will be "truly great" for the police department, the entire county and all its citizens: "To have a facility where we're all functioning together is really going to enhance public safety for both emergency and day-to-day operations."
"It's just so much more efficient," he continued. "To me, it's a world-class facility for a world-class community and for our world-class employees who deserve to work in a place like this."
Rohrer also stressed the importance of the police forensics lab — especially with the growing community, increased number of cases and the constraints on the state lab. The current county police forensics lab is housed 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. The new lab, he said, will also have "better and enhanced technology."
He's also pleased that the police department's 911 call center will be in the PSTOC building. "Now, we're all squeezed in one room in the Woodburn facility," said Rohrer. In the new digs, he said, "All the planning and logistics that take place during an emergency will be [done in one spot] and will mean much better support. So this will be a big leap for us."
NEUHARD CALLED the new facility "really exciting for all of us, especially Fire and Rescue, because it's going to co-locate a state-of-the-art, emergency-operations center with communications. For years, our facility has been too small and lacked the technology required for [today's world]," he explained. "This will bring us back together, as one of the most important things during emergencies is coordination."
Furthermore, he said, the State Police and VDOT portions of PSTOC are crucial to the management of roadway incidents. And having everyone under one roof will make face-to-face, direct communication easier.
"And this will be a secure structure — not only for the security of the workers, but also for the security of the systems and access to the functions we're counting on," said Neuhard. That way, he said, "They'll be there during a disaster" when rapid and easy communication is critical.
"By working together daily and knowing all the players, during a disaster, it streamlines communications and insures confidence because you're already used to working together and you know each other," he added. "It's exciting to see [this facility] break ground. We just wish it were [already] built."
Calling Monday's groundbreaking a "momentous occasion," Stalzer said there's been "a lot of work by a lot of people, over just 2 1/2 years to get us to this point." He's also pleased with what the county and its partners in this project are doing in the realm of transportation.
He said the three most important elements in the new building will be public-safety response, transportation-incident management and communications — "internally, operationally and externally with the public." And, said Stalzer, "We're looking forward to getting it underway."
Currently, said VDOT spokesman Ryan Hall, "We don't have a direct link to information on our county roads, except for the interstate highways, like I-66. Right now, we rely on a phone call from the police or a resident to say there's a major accident. But when we're all in the same command center, there'll be this great, information-sharing network."
Then, said Hall, if there's an accident on a primary or secondary road, for example, at Routes 50 and 28, as soon as the county feeds data about that accident into its computer-aided dispatch system, that information will go to VDOT, too. As a result, he said, "We can see the impacts to the traffic so we can see what's needed to mitigate traffic congestion."
And conversely, said VDOT's Evans, having everyone together within the PSTOC building will enable VDOT to share information with the county about accidents or work-zone construction on the interstates. That way, he said, "The Emergency Operations Center and PSTOC will put the right people in the right place at the right time" to handle these things.
"IF TRAFFIC'S backing up on major corridors, we can dispatch information to Fairfax County's fire and police about alternate routes to use," said Evans. "In the control room, we'll have a supervisory pod in the middle — with all the supervisors for VDOT, the state police and the county — so all they'll have to do is turn around and talk to each other."
VDOT's costs are estimated at $102.2 million, including $50 million for its new, Northern Virginia District Office Building. It will also pay $20 million for its share of the design and construction costs of PSTOC. And it's chipping in $6.6 million for site infrastructure, such as roads, sewer and grading.
VDOT's Chantilly, Clifton and Burke road-maintenance headquarters are presently housed at this site. But to make way for the county's new bus facility and VDOT's district office, they'll all be relocated to new, off-site buildings.
So VDOT's also earmarked $8 million for design and construction of the new Clifton area headquarters and access road, near the salt dome, at the Fairfax County Parkway and I-66. It'll pay $7.1 million for the same thing at Murdock Street, off Stonecroft Boulevard, for the new Chantilly area headquarters.
"Currently, the Chantilly maintenance crew has to come from West Ox to work in [Chantilly]," said Evans. "This will get them closer to their target areas. We'll start designing the new facilities in April 2006, hoping to have them out of [West Ox] by mid-2008."