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Location, location: More details needed for decision on Dawson County’s new EOC, E911 center
E911 2023
Jim King and DCSO Maj. Greg Rowan, right, both listen as Fire Chief Troy Leist, center, shares his priorities for the planned EOC and E911 building during the BOC’s March 2 work session. - photo by Julia Hansen

After a half hour of public discussion, a decision on a location for Dawson County’s new emergency operations and E911 center was still too close to call.

This story continues below.

The Board of Commissioners weighed a litany of cost and placement concerns about the major capital project during its March 2 work session. 

The EOC and E911 center is one of several notable projects voters approved as part of a Dawson County special purpose local option sales tax in 2021. That SPLOST VII measure included a planned $5.5 million for the EOC/E911 center and $3 million for a radio system upgrade, a total of $8.5 million.

As Level 2 projects, money must be spent on the EOC/E911 center and radio system upgrades before any other SPLOST VII projects. 


Site specifications were part of the considerations. Prior to the board’s March meeting, the county had been thinking about a spot on Ga. 53 West, at the edge of downtown Dawsonville. 

Developer consultant Jim King previously volunteered his time to scope out the alternative site at Fire Station 2 on Liberty Drive.

King, who’s on the E911 center’s design team as a subcontractor to the architect, told the board on Feb. 17 that the EOC/E911 building, parking and related structures would fit on either site.

Preliminary center plans have been discussed for a two-story building with a basement and parking on both sides. Parking would be on grade with each floor level, King told the board. 

When asked by District 4 Commissioner Emory Dooley, King specified that each floor level would be 60x100 ft. or 6,000 sq. ft. with 10 feet in between the building and parking lot and a 60-foot parking bay on each side. 

Facilities Director James Tolbert noted that he was “a little concerned” about the forthcoming EOC/E911 center being located at the downtown site, as it would be a tight fit with both it and the future health department on that property. 

BOC Chairman Billy Thurmond also pointed out that a fueling station and additional library space has been proposed at Fire Station 2. A fueling station was on the list of planned SPLOST VII projects, he said. 

While King seemed to think a fueling station would work on either site, Thurmond asked him to check whether it would be feasible at the downtown site. 

Dooley mentioned that having a fueling station at Fire Station 2 would be “important without them (first responders) having to come all the way to town” to fuel up their vehicles. 

Thurmond said he wasn’t familiar with the legality of placing a new library at Fire Station 2 or not, since he didn’t know if there were any particular terms, like location, associated with the impact fees the county previously collected for a future library. 

If the county can be more flexible with where to place another library space, District 3 Commissioner Alexa Bruce recommended putting it on the corner of Ga. 136, across from the rented Fire Station 4. 

“Not everything has to fit on that one [property] right at Fire Station 2,” she said. 


Fire Chief Troy Leist’s top concern was ensuring the county would “spend the [SPLOST] money on a facility that’s going to work.” For him, that meant “reliable, high-speed internet.” 

Leist pointed out that it would be expensive to extend fiber-optic internet cables to the downtown Dawsonville site. Given his extensive experience with the type of radio system the county intends to install, that could be a problem given the system’s high reliance on quality internet. 

He described previous outages with the new system as “devastating to communications for hours” to him and his earlier colleagues. 

During the meeting, the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office’s E911 Assistant Director, Kristan Bean, reaffirmed that cloud-based technology and fiber-optic internet have become key to first responders’ work.

At the Fire Station 2 site, there would be more options for internet redundancies or backup options, with companies like Comcast/Xfinity, Windstream and North Georgia Network catering to businesses along the Ga. 400 corridor, said District 2 Commissioner Chris Gaines. 

“That’s one of the big things that worries me,” Dooley said about internet options for the downtown site.


Internet wasn’t public officials’ only infrastructure-related concern. 

“There have been power issues on this side of town…brown outs at the courthouse and IT. Y’all are familiar with it,” Tolbert told the board. 

In contrast, the county “seems to have zero problems” with Sawnee EMC along Ga. 400, as compared to locals’ experience with Georgia Power, Tolbert added. 

Like with the internet lines, King reiterated that water, sewer and electricity services would have to be extended “about 900 feet” to the downtown site. 

“You’ll have to extend them there some day…the health department is going to have to go on that site because it’s required to be within the city limits,” King said.

Thurmond said that if the utility lines are going to have to be run there eventually, he doesn’t “want to pay for it twice,” referring to utility costs. 

Tolbert estimated it would cost between $180,000-$200,000 to run sewer services to the downtown site, and there would also be a septic option there.

“If the city said they can run it (sewer lines) for the gravity over there…that’s a much cheaper option,” King said. 

King later commented that the two-inch sewer line at the downsite site would have to be upsized to a 12-inch line. King added that a lift station would have to be placed to pump water up, and a force main would have to be installed, too, to route water to an existing manhole.

That kind of “bonafide lift station” could cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $500,000.

As well, extending a water line to the downtown site would cost between $150,000-$200,000,

King added. 

In comparison, Fire Station 2 has those utilities and a sewer manhole already. The board already approved a lift station near Fire Station 2 because of previous sewer-related issues in the area, Gaines said. 

King also commented that the planned lift station was designed to handle another building at the Fire Station 2 site. 

Similarly, there is gas available at the Fire Station 2 site but not the downtown site. Leist added that the generators “should run off of natural gas and not have to recycle fuel.”

“The benefit of [Fire] Station 2 is most of all the critical utilities we need run right in front of the site,” Dooley added. 

Access and safety

DCSO Maj. Greg Rowan said he’d be “satisfied with either location” for the EOC/E911 Center, though he “would like for them to be closer” to the county law enforcement center. 

Gaines said “on the flip side,” it could be problematic if both emergency facilities are downtown, and a severe storm hits the area. 

Rowan did mention DCSO’s precinct down at Fire Station 2, explaining it’s not like his personnel don’t go to that area.

“And it would be nice for them to have the convenience of restaurants to eat, just simple things like that,” Rowan added.

Gaines asked whether an upstairs open space in the planned EOC/E911 center could be used one or two days a year for voting, since Fire Station 2 serves as the county’s eastern precinct.

Leist added that he and others involved with the center’s planning could look into that.

However, they’d have to be mindful of security access issues given elevator and other connections between the floor levels, he said. 

Thurmond likewise elaborated on safety of the emergency operations and E911 staff as a “key concern” of his. 

He noted that the center and utilities could also be underground at either site, helpful factors given severe weather concerns. 

“Ideally when you’re looking at protecting these people and making sure that they’re safe and in the worst possible storm that we could have…most of this stuff is underground,” Thurmond said. “They’re not going to be at risk of being hit with an EF-5 tornado… we need them to be running when we have a storm.”

“I don’t know how we can figure it out to make it work that way,” the chairman said of constructing the building, “but I want them (staff) to feel completely safe where they’re at,.” 

Toward the end of the discussion, agency leaders expressed multiple points of view about the future building’s location.

“It’s almost a proverbial six one-half dozen another, but which one is actually better? It’s just hard for me to call,” Rowan said.

Leist said he personally preferred the Fire Station 2 site because of proximity to restaurants and quick access to Ga. 400, a critical factor when thinking about routes of travel to the center for extra personnel or supplies that state agencies like the Georgia Emergency Management Agency would need to access.

The fire chief noted that if, say, an ice storm were to hit the area and many trees fell down, agencies like GEMA would not even be able to get up to Dawsonville and vice versa for anyone trying to head south for emergency supplies. 

“I think what we’re looking for as a staff is some direction either way, and [then] we’ll work really hard to make it happen,” Leist said of the center’s two location choices. “[It’s] whatever you decide, but we just need a direction to start moving forward.”