Timber! Well, sort of.
The skyline of downtown Great Bend changed Wednesday morning as the 30-year-old radio tower beside the Great Bend Police Department came down.
“It definitely looks different now,” said Police Chief Dean Akings. “You say ‘wait a minute, there’s something missing.’”
Akings was among several city officials watching as crews from Mobile Radio Services and Great Bend Crane Rental scaled the tower to attach the cable, detached it from its concrete base and, ever so gently, lowered it into the ally between the police station and the Great Bend City Office. The process took about a half an hour.
After the felled 120-foot steel tower lay flat, it was disassembled. As part of the deal to remove the tower, Mobile Radio got to keep it.
The landmark, which was just short enough not to require a flashing red light at its tip, had been in place since 1982. A year before, Great Bend suffered one of its worst floods ever.
“Our communications were terrible,” Akings said of the system in place during the 1981 deluge. After that, the city underwent a $200,000 radio system upgrade, including the tower.
Also, at the time there was no 911 and the police dispatched out of the station house. Today, 911 and all communications for the city and county are handled through Barton County Communications located two blocks away from the police department in the AT&T building.
“Technology has taken the need for it away,” he said. According to federal law, by the year 2013, all first-responding agencies must convert from wide-band to narrow-band radios in order to free up more radio frequencies.
Great Bend has already made the switch and the old tower had already been refitted, but it was still obsolete. All the antennas and transmitters were moved to a new, grant-funded tower at Great Bend Fire Station No. 2 west of town a couple weeks ago.
The new structure is stronger and at its base is a climate-controlled building that houses the repeaters and other related equipment.
“It’s were it should be now,” Akings said. “This was not the ideal place.” Downtown, there was always danger posed by ice falling from the tower (which did dent parked city vehicles) and it attracted birds.
In fact, the bird issue prompted the installation of a “squawk box” which made bird sounds to chase them away. This drew complaints from neighborhood residents and the device is in storage for now.
“They wanted it down really badly,” said Bob Jarmer, one of the owners of Mobile Radio Services. “We installed that tower 30 years ago and today we took it down.”
The tower will also be in storage for the time being. Although it is in excellent condition and could easily be pressed back into service, they have no plans for it now. But, “you never know what the future will bring,” he said.