Hillsborough County should be realistic about its needs as it looks to open a new emergency operations center.
County commissioners voted last month to explore two options: leasing an existing building for a disaster command center and building an entirely new, stand-alone building. The idea came after Commissioner Ken Hagan suggested the county consider buying the former office complex of local developer Bing Kearney, which is vacant. The board will explore that idea and other private offers, and weigh them against plans to spend $30 million on a new facility.
Price shopping makes sense, especially in this economy. The county might be able to retrofit an existing building for less than the cost of building a new one. But functionality — and not cost — should be the main driver.
The county has not made a compelling case for why it needs a facility more than double in size than the current 29,000-square-foot headquarters. And together with auxiliary facilities, the new footprint would balloon to 100,000 square feet. Officials want up to 30 acres of land (the current site has 5 acres) and an area for an outdoor fire training facility. The plan calls for moving fire department operations there, in addition to traffic control, data processing and code enforcement. Some of these functions can be housed in cheaper space.
The county needs a modern facility, and it makes no sense to replace an outdated one with another equally unsuitable. But the current concept is bloated.