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Radio repeaters bolster county coverage
SPARK funds to cover cost of $1M project
800 mhz radio tower pic
Shown is the Barton County radio tower near Susank. It will be the site of one of two new 800 mHz repeaters that will improve radio coverage in the county for first responders.

Funds from the state helping with the county’s COVID-19 costs will improve communications for area first responders. The Barton County Commission Monday morning approved the purchase of two 800 MHz repeaters at cost of $1,180,611 from Motorola, the cost of which will be covered by SPARK money.

Barton County has received the necessary documentation from the State Office of Recovery allowing the use of Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas funding to purchase hardware supporting the upgrade to 800 MHz radios. These are used by law enforcement, fire services and emergency medical services, County Administrator Phil Hathcock said.

The repeaters will be installed by the end of the year.

“Approximately one and a half years ago, Barton County began the transition to a 800 megahertz radio system to replace the current UHF system,” Hathcock said. “We’re using this radio system as the primary source of communication for law enforcement, EMS and fire services throughout the county.”

This is a network of state powers that provide radio communication throughout the entire State of Kansas, he said. It exceeds the capability of the former UHF system, providing more uniform and consistent coverage, and allows for seemly connections to other state and local agencies. 

But, Hathcock said there is only one state tower in the county. “To adequately provide building coverage and a backup system for the county in the event the state tower is down, several repeaters needed to be installed.”

The project has been studied extensively, he said. This will provide coverage countywide, outside of and in buildings.

Motorola will install one on the mobile radio tower south of Great Bend and one on the county tower located near Susank. “The cost for this project for all of the emergency service agencies has been challenging as this technology is expensive,” he said.

“To offset portions of the cost, the county submitted plans for this to be paid by SPARKS funding as the COVID-19 responses have significantly impacted emergency services,” he said. “The county has received approval from SPARKS Committee to proceed with the project.”

The SPARK money is a real boon for the county since this is such an expensive effort, Commissioner Jim Daily said. “We were trying desperately to figure out how to pay for it before and this was just a shot in the arm for this whole project.”

“That’s correct and my hat’s off to Sue Cooper, the grant coordinator, and Dena Popp, the 911 director,” Hathcock said. “Both of them worked very hard to get this funding approved through the SPARKS Committee.”

SPARK requirements mandate the funds be spent by the end of the year, and Hathcock assured the commission this would be done by then.

Coronavirus Relief Funds are awarded via the SPARK Taskforce, as a component of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The taskforce, or committee, must sign off on all SPARK-related projects.

Better phones coming to Health Department, courthouse

The current phone systems in the courthouse and Health Department are running on unsupported hardware, county Network Administrator Dereck Hollingshead told the County Commission Monday morning. To solve this, commissioners approved upgrades of the phones at both places.

“This was problematic when services became more heavily reliant on technology following the COVID-19 closure of county business offices,” he said. So, he researched options.

He settled on the use of cloud-based phones that will allow all county business offices to work on one central system, thus allowing easier social distancing using features not currently available on the outdated system. It will also allow for working offsite and have other advantages, he said.

The system will come from Nex-Tech at a cost of $11,941 for the Health Department and $28,936 for the courthouse. State Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas (SPARK) funds, targeting pandemic-related costs, will cover the expense.  

The county has been migrating to this system for a while now, and this was the last piece to getting the countywide network in place, he said.