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Groundbreaking Celebration for the new Chaffee County North-End Public Safety Complex facility, in Buena Vista, Colorado, April 21, 2023. (L to R)Chaffee County Emergency Medical Services Director Josh Hadley; Retired Chaffee County Administrative Director Bob Christiansen; U.S. Senator Michael Bennet; Chaffee County Commissioner Keith Baker; Chaffee County Sheriff John Spezze; Chaffee County Office of Emergency Management Director Rich Atkins; Chaffee County Engineer Gary Greiner; Chaffee County Finance Director Dan Short.

A Long-awaited Moment Arrives

Colorado’s U.S. Senator Michael Bennet joined local officials for the groundbreaking Friday afternoon, April 21, for the new Chaffee County North-End Public Safety Complex to be located at 200 Steele Drive in Buena Vista.

Senator Michael Bennet delivered remarks at the groundbreaking of the Chaffee County North-end Public Safety Complex. Photo by Jan Wondra.

While the weather was threatening and the dust was flying, it did not dampen the spirits of the dozens of participants there to acknowledge this important step.

Present were all three Chaffee County Commissioners, local county leadership staff from the emergency medical technicians, office of emergency management and the sheriff’s office, and many of the partner organizations involved in the initiative, including the Town of Buena Vista and Chaffee County Fire Protection District.

Representatives from the offices of U.S. Senator John Hickenlooper and U.S. Representative Brittany Pettersen were also in attendance to show their support for the project.

“We are looking forward to beginning construction on this long-awaited milestone project and express our gratitude for the incredible community support that has allowed this project to finally become a reality,” said Chaffee Board of County Commissioners Chair Keith Baker, in his welcome at the event.

This moment has been years in the making. The new facility will be located a mile south of Buena Vista just off U.S. 24 and adjacent to the Central Colorado Regional Airport.  This joint-use public safety campus has been a developing concept for almost 15 years.

The multi-agency facility concept initially originated in 2008 through recognition of the growing need to meet increasing demands for emergency services in the northern half of Chaffee County. In 2017 plans began to solidify when Chaffee County Government purchased the two-acre parcel as its future permanent home.

“As the vision began evolving, we identified the need for the colocation of the sheriff’s office … we added a meeting room,” said Baker. “We’ve always been hat-in-hand to have a meeting space on the north end of the county. This wonderful facility will give us the opportunity to have our own meeting room — for us, for other community members, and 501(c)(3) organizations.”

“I’m probably going to give the shortest speech of any legislator,” chuckled Bennet as the cold wind whipped the dusty site. “It is important to acknowledge the people in these elected positions and all the work done over a long period of time to get to this day. It took everyone working together —  the towns, the county, and the vision that we’re now building on here. Today we’re passing it along.” He went on to stress the collaboration that made it easier for him and Senator John Hickenlooper to assist with funding “for this incredibly worthy project.”

He added, ” I have a real sense of the growth that you folks are trying to manage here … the challenges that are going to come from growth are going to be significant and cooperation is going to be necessary. The Decker fire, the rock slides that you’ve faced — having this all in one place will be important to the county — and this is an important symbol for folks around the state.”

Senator Bennet joined the current Chaffee BoCC at the groundbreaking for the Chaffee County North-End Public Safety Complex. From left to right: Greg Felt, P.T. Wood, Keith Baker, and Senator Michael Bennet. Photo by Jan Wondra.

The $10 million dollar North-End Public Safety Complex will be a two-story 16,000 square-foot facility supporting emergency management and response operations for Chaffee County Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and serving as an annex for Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office. It is expected that the much-needed facility will substantially enhance the county’s ability to serve residents and visitors in the Buena Vista and Nathrop vicinity for decades to come.

In addition to dedicated spaces for EMS and Sheriff, it includes a large flexible-use conference room with a capacity for up to 100 people. Referred to as “flex-space” this can be used for Board of County Commissioners meetings, county training, and public convenings.

This space can also serve as an auxiliary Emergency Operations Center (EOC) for the County’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM). Should the county encounter another crisis on the north end of the county, such as the wildfires experienced in the past several years on the south end of the county, it will provide an organizing center.

In keeping with the county’s growing focus on energy efficiency, the building design includes a rooftop solar array to provide the majority of power needs for the facility through renewable energy. The project architect Wold Architects and Engineers and numerous consultants have worked with the County throughout 2021-2022 to complete the designs for the campus.

Diesslin Structures, Inc. is serving as the project’s Construction Manager/General Contractor, with Crabtree Group Inc. Civil Engineers, Mountain Aspect Landscape Architecture LLC, and JVA Consulting Structural Engineers also contributing technical expertise. Construction will commence within the next month and is expected to be completed by the summer of 2024.

Facility Exemplifies Funding Collaboration

The county secured funding for the project through a combination of local, state, and federal sources. This funding includes $1 million from the county’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) allocation, $1.6 million from its federal Department of the Treasury Local Assistance and Tribal Consistency Fund allotment, a $750,000 Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) grant, and a pending $1 million Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) EOC grant.

Deputy County Administrator Beth Helmke got some assistance with the groundbreaking shovels from Senator Michael Bennet as the ceremony wrapped up on Friday, April 21. Photo by Jan Wondra.

The FEMA grant that has made the project a reality was pursued through a Congressionally Directed Spending recommendation championed by Senators Bennet and Hickenlooper.

Bennet thanked his colleague Hickenlooper for the collaboration between their two congressional offices, referring to it as, “The cleanest directional effort in the country.”

He added, ” My standard is –could I defend it on the front page of any newspaper in the country? That’s what this project is. It wouldn’t have been done without the incredibly effective work of this county, and that made it an easy project to send to our colleagues in Congress.”

The balance of the construction costs is being covered by the county through Certificates of Participation bonds and its capital reserves.

“We believe this new facility will substantially enhance our county’s ability to serve our 20,000 plus residents and hundreds of thousands of annual visitors for decades to come,” said  Chaffee County EMS Director Josh Hadley. He has served as director for the past eight years of his 24 years with the EMS agency. His words echoed the collective excitement and gratitude for the initiative.

“I’ve seen a significant increase in the number and severity of calls from the north end of the county and the north end creates a challenge,” he explained. “Our receiving facility is in the south end and we have to transport 30 minutes down to the medical center … this will allow us capacity.”

He reminisced about their time with a headquarters in a basically six by 10-foot cabin on CR 306. During a snowstorm, the roof of the shelter over the ambulance collapsed from the snow. Hadley concluded by thanking the many supporters over the years for making this significant investment for EMS, Sheriff, and OEM, but more importantly for committing to this important investment for the whole Chaffee County community.

Sheriff John Spezze added, “This shows the county’s commitment to the north end of the county. The sheriff’s office, the courthouse are on the south end and it’s important that the north end sees the county’s commitment. We have a lot of different assets, but we don’t have a secure facility – just having a building with a lot that can be locked we really appreciate it … so we can do a better job for the residents of the county.”

The Chaffee Director of the Office of Emergency Management Rich Atkins summed it up by saying, “When we set up this emergency operations center we’re supporting the responders and the citizens – which we currently do not have. This is the central and northern part of the county emergency management; it’s halfway each way from Lake County down to Fremont. Having an EOC (Emergency Operations Center) here and an EOC down in Salida will be wonderful.”