City Council approves purchase of new 150-foot tower

The communications tower atop the Scotts Bluff County Courthouse has been there for the past 40 years. Gering has approved a conditional use permit for the county to remove the tower and build a new one next to the old county jail.

As the communications tower atop the Scotts Bluff County Courthouse approaches 40 years of age, a plan to build a new one at a different location was approved by the Gering City Council.

Since the tower was first installed, changes to tower standards have become much more rigorous. Because the current tower cannot safely hold more antennas, the county is unable to expand its emergency services.

The county proposed to move the tower off the courthouse roof and build a new one just west of the old county jail at1718 11th St. in Gering.

The new tower would be 150 feet high, which is the maximum height allowed under a conditional use permit in the business/commercial zone. But the hearing before the council wasn’t without some objection.

Local attorney Jim Ellison, speaking on his own behalf, said the county had initially considered other sites, such as near the county detention center and near the central stores building east Gering.

“By their own stats, there are some alternatives available,” Ellison told council members. “Some of those sites are owned by Gering and have much lower population intensity.”

Ellison added that moving the tower isn’t an emergency and asked the council to postpone further discussion until they’ve taken time to consider alternative sites. He said their goal should be to not set a precedent for others by allowing intrusive structures in the downtown area.

Randy Meininger with Valley Ambulance Service had been involved in helping upgrade the county’s emergency communications capabilities when he was mayor of Scottsbluff.

Speaking in favor of the tower relocation, he said the new location would retain all the old tower’s capabilities.

Because all the county’s emergency communications originate in the 911 comm center, it’s necessary for the courthouse tower antenna to have a direct line of sight to towers in south Mitchell and in Banner County. Meininger said if the tower was moved to another site, the county would still have to build a tower on the north side of the building to rebroadcast the signal to the new tower location.

From the tower at the courthouse, the County Communication Center talks to all the emergency responders in the county, as well as the schools and activates tornado sirens for every community.

The county’s initial proposal to move the tower was rejected by the Gering Planning Commission as members said the tower’s appearance and compatibility didn’t fit in the downtown area.

So after the county made some significant changes, the Planning Commission approved the plan at its next meeting.

The county will install a wrought iron fence around the tower, one that’s compatible with similar fencing at the nearby Gering Civic Plaza. Access won’t be an issue, as the tower will be accessed from county property, not from the street.

A landscape plan has been submitted by Community Forester Chrissy Land, who also designed the landscape for the civic plaza.

The fencing and landscape beds should be completed this fall, but timing of the project might delay the actual landscape from being planted until next spring.

The courthouse tower is the first communication link coming out of the county’s consolidated communications center, which handles 911 emergency calls and more for Scotts Bluff County, northern Banner County and the southern half of Sioux County.

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Jerry Purvis is a reporter with the Star-Herald. He can be reached at 308-632-9046 or emailed at jpurvis@starherald.com.