Fairfax County took a giant step into the future Monday with the groundbreaking for a huge, new public safety and transportation complex.
The facility will be built 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.
The facility will be built in phases, through 2025, with the capability for future expansion. Phase one will be the 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.
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 $13 million, 33,000-square-foot Forensics Facility will be co-located with PSTOC.
Hossein Malayeri, project manager with the county's Building Design Branch, designed the 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 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 (D-Braddock),Cathy Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill), Penelope Gross (D-Mason), Gerry Hyland (D-Mount Vernon) and Linda Smyth (D-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," he said.
"It's just so much more efficient," Rohrer added. "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 said. "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 it's most important for easier communications."
Calling Monday's groundbreaking a "momentous occasion," Stalzer said there's been "a lot of work by a lot of people, over just two and a half years to get us to this point." He's also pleased with the extent of what the county and its partners in this project are doing with transportation aspects.
VDOT's Evans said PSTOC will enable VDOT to share information with the county about accidents, and obtain information from the county about accidents on roads other than interstate highways.
"If traffic's backing up on major corridors, we can dispatch information to Fairfax County's fire and police about alternate routes to use," he said. "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."