Midtown Raleigh News

Raleigh picks firm to design 911 center

The city has selected an architectural firm known for its work on several of Raleigh’s large public buildings to begin the design of a new 911 center.

Pearce Brinkley Cease + Lee will take on the latest incarnation of a project delayed for years by disagreement over cost and location.

This is the second design firm hired by Raleigh in connection with a public safety center.

Another Raleigh firm, KlingStubbins, worked on earlier plans for the Lightner Center, a 17-story tower bordering downtown’s Nash Square that would have housed the city’s police, fire and 911 headquarters.

Unable to reach accord on the $175 million complex, City Council members opted for a less costly approach that will break the project into phases, starting with a 911 center considered a critical need.

KlingStubbins applied for the 911 center job. But the firm came in second behind Pearce Brinkley in a field of four finalists.

Sticking with KlingStubbins could have allowed the city to benefit from the firm’s previous work, City Manager Russell Allen said in an interview.

“That certainly is a valid question and something that was considered,” he said.

But the proposed center, Allen said, has evolved since the Lightner Center breakdown.

“It’s a very different building,” he said. “It is two years later. Technology changes, needs change. This is a phased project now. The building is not a high-rise. It won’t be the same kinds of requirements.”

City Councilman Russ Stephenson expected KlingStubbins to have an advantage based on its past involvement.

“I’m surprised they didn’t get it, to tell you the truth,” he said. “I just assumed their in-depth knowledge would lead to a proposal that would put them in a good light.”

Stephenson added, “I assume everybody got a fair shot and the staff used professional judgment in picking which one would be the best.”

A committee of 11 city officials involved in public works and emergency operations made the recommendation after reviewing each firm’s experience and work history.

Pearce Brinkley said it would team up with AECOM, a global architectural and engineering services firm with offices in Raleigh.

AECOM is “an expert consultant in the public safety arena,” said Rich Kelly, the city’s construction projects administrator. The expertise and local presence were key factors, Kelly said.

“Having somebody that’s readily accessible is a big bonus,” he said.

Among its other jobs, Pearce Brinkley led an expansion of Memorial Auditorium and an ongoing renovation of Terminal 1 at Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

A city committee also interviewed finalists from Little/HOK and Hager Smith/Ross Drulis Cusenberry.

The City Council last week authorized Allen to negotiate a contract with Pearce Brinkley. Allen budgeted $600,000 for preliminary design and planning services.

The center is planned on city-owned land at North Raleigh Boulevard and Brentwood Road just outside the Beltline. The vacant property was formerly part of the Westinghouse industrial site.

The initial phase also would include space for an emergency operations center, an information-technology data center and a police field office or district station.

Although it’s not the glassy, state-of-the-art tower envisioned by Lightner Center supporters, the facility could be expanded to accommodate future public safety uses, Allen says.

Emergency call-takers now work in a cramped bunker in the basement of City Hall. The city has no emergency operations center.

In April 2011, after tornadoes caused damage across Raleigh, emergency management officials coordinated the city’s response from tables set up in a cramped conference room.