Fire Rescue

Gainesville Police officers look on as Gainesville Fire Rescue workers enter a building on Northwest 13th Street late Tuesday night.

The Gainesville and Alachua County commissions decided to update the public safety radio system Thursday night.

The commissions voted unanimously in a joint meeting to upgrade the Alachua County public safety radio system.

The system is used for first responders to communicate, said Harold Theus, the Alachua County interim fire chief. Those responders are from the Gainesville Police Department, Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, University Police Department, Gainesville Fire Rescue and Alachua County Fire Rescue.

Despite software updates last year, the current system still experiences coverage gaps in rural areas of the county and in large buildings, including all schools, Theus said. This makes it diffcult for first responders to communicate with each other in emergencies.

In August, Federal Engineering, a communications consulting company, concluded a study about the efficiency of the system, Theus said. It presented two options: update the current system run by Gainesville Regional Utilities or create a new standalone county system. The commissions decided to go with the first option. They explored funding options, such as a sales tax. A one-year 1-cent sales tax would raise about $44 million, said Gainesville Fire Chief Jeff Lane. The cost to upgrade the system, including periodic updates, is estimated at $32 million.

Later in the meeting, the commissions also discusssed the idea of building an 80,000 to 120,000 square foot event center in Gainesville for almost three hours before the city decided unanimously and the county voted 4-1, with Mike Byerly in dissent, to have staff look more into it.

“We have a long way to go in this process,” City Commissioner Harvey Ward said.

A 3,000-person multipurpose stadium, music venue, indoor track and 1,000-car parking lot were some of the amenities discussed for the proposed project.

The commissioners heard a presentation from Victus Advisors, a Utah-based consulting company, which evaluated three locations for the new center: the Martin Luther King Jr. Multipurpose Center, the Koppers site and the North Waldo site.

Lynne Palmer, a 12-year UF event planner, said with UF’s growth there is a lot of pressure to hold large events and there just isn’t enough space in the Reitz Union Grand Ballroom. However, she doesn’t believe the proposed locations are large enough.

“With the scope of the project, the locations presented can’t support that,” Palmer said.

Part of the city commission’s decision was to hold events to discuss the idea of having an event center further with residents.

“We’re a growing community. We’re not a sleepy college town anymore,” Ward said. “We are trying to get a good place for the whole community.”

Karina is the city commission reporter and a second-year journalism major with a passion for storytelling and graphic design.