GERING — Following a recommendation by the Gering Planning Commission and city staff, the Gering City Council unanimously approved a conditional-use permit to allow the county to relocate and replace one of its four communications towers.
The tower on top of the Scotts Bluff County Courthouse was built 40 years ago. Since then, new tower standards have become more rigorous. The current tower cannot safely hold more antennas, so the county is unable to expand its emergency services, according to information presented at the council meeting
County officials want to move the tower off of the courthouse roof and build a new one just west of the old county jail at 1718 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 there was also some objection to the proposal.
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 in 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 density.”
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.
“There’s no cost analysis on this project that I’m aware of,” Ellison said. “The county hasn’t even opened bids and they need to determine if this is the best option before proceeding.”
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, Meininger said the new location would retain all of the old tower’s capabilities.
“Because all of our emergency communications originate in the 911 comm center, it’s necessary for the courthouse tower to have a direct line of sight to towers in south Mitchell and in Banner County,” Meininger said. “If we moved the tower to another site, we’d still have to build a tower on the north side of the building to rebroadcast the information to the new tower location.”
From the tower at the courthouse, the County Communications Center talks to all the emergency responders in the county, as well as the schools and activates tornado sirens for every community.
Meininger said that because of current safety standards for communications towers, it would not be feasible to keep the tower at the courthouse and just reinforce the roof, a suggestion made.
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.
The communications center, which has been in operation for the past 37 years, is located in the basement of the Scotts Bluff County Administration Building, next to the courthouse.