County and OWC Break Ground on New EOC, Arena, Hurricane Shelter


Rep. Ray Sansom, center, breaks ground <br />for the new Community Services Complex.<br /> He is joined by Jody Henderson,<br /> left, and James Campbell, right.
Rep. Ray Sansom, center, breaks ground
for the new Community Services Complex.
He is joined by Jody Henderson,
left, and James Campbell, right.

With Rep. Ray Sansom at the controls of a 4-wheel drive backhoe, ground was formally broken on Monday, June 23 for construction of a new Okaloosa County 911 Emergency Operations Center and a new 2,400 seat basketball arena for Okaloosa-Walton College. The 120,000 square-foot joint facility will sit on the southwest portion of the OWC Niceville campus. Designed for dual duty, the arena will be hardened to withstand 190-mile-per-hour winds and become the county's primary hurricane evacuation shelter. "The project is a wonderful partnership that will benefit the citizens of this region for decades to come," noted Sansom about the $30,674,000 project that is jointly funded by local, state and federal revenue. "Moving the EOC to be adjacent to a state-of-the-art arena that will double as a public evacuation center is an innovative step of which folks from across the south are taking notice."

Joining Sansom at the controls during the groundbreaking were James Campbell, chair of the Okaloosa County Commission, and Jody Henderson, chair of the college's District Board of Trustees. "OWC is proud to join in this partnership with the county," said Henderson. "I know where I'll be when the next big storm blows into town." The three men donned hardhats and all sat in the backhoe as Sansom used the machine to move a pile of dirt at the spot that will become the center court of the arena's basketball floor.

The facility includes a 74,500 square foot arena that will become OWC's main venue for the college's top-ranked men's and women's basketball program and major college assemblies such as graduation; a 20,100 square foot OWC classroom building for ROTC and wellness courses; and a 25,400 square foot 911 Emergency Operations Center that will house a 24-hour 911, Fire, EMS and Sheriff dispatch center as well as EMS and Emergency Management administrative offices. By comparison, the current OWC gymnasium is 35,167 square feet and seats 1,058 persons. Okaloosa County 911 Emergency Operations functions that will move to the new facility currently comprise 8,353 square feet. The new 911 Emergency Operations Center for the county is funded at $7 million of the project, with $4 million from local tax revenue and $3 million from state and federal grants. While its normal operations will house county staff on a year-round basis, once the EOC is activated in an emergency, staff will be able to utilize the specially designed OWC classroom building for sleeping and relief accommodations and to activate the arena for public evacuation space if necessary. "The central and high ground location on the Niceville campus is simply perfect for this much-needed 911 Emergency Operations Center," noted Dino Villani, Okaloosa County public safety director.

According to OWC President Dr. Bob Richburg, the complex is the largest dollar-value capital construction project in the college's 44-history, "The massive scale of this facility will dominate the western portion of the OWC Niceville campus, just as the OWC Mattie Kelly Arts Center does the east portion of campus," said Richburg. "We are so pleased that the leadership of our legislative delegation secured the state funding for this important community facility."

The design team for the complex is Sam Marshall Architects of Pensacola and Orcutt Consulting of Maine, the same team who previously worked on the OWC Robert E. Greene Science Building, the Learning Resources Center, observatory, a master plan for the Niceville campus and the Mattie Kelly Arts Center. The construction contract for the Community Services Complex was awarded to Speegle Construction, Inc. of Niceville after the college received competitive bids from nine separate firms for the project. Site work will begin immediately with anticipated completion of the complex by July 2010.

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