City to buy temporary telecommunications tower

Published 7:19 pm Tuesday, February 19, 2019


The City of Franklin must relocate all of its public safety telecommunications equipment installed on top of the Hunterdale water tower so that the tower’s scheduled maintenance and repainting can proceed.

According to City Manager Amanda Jarratt, the maintenance and repainting must begin no later than June 30 of this year. If the project does not begin by this date, the city will be out the several hundred thousand dollars it already paid when it entered into the maintenance contract.

To that end, Franklin’s City Council voted 5-2 on Feb. 11 to buy a portable telecommunications tower for the equipment at a cost of roughly $70,000. This price includes the cost of the portable tower, which is installed on top of a trailer, plus the cost of relocating the equipment from the water tower to the trailer.

While the trailer-tower is considerably less expensive than the ground-mounted temporary tower the city had initially considered purchasing — at an estimated cost of $171,000 — there is a downside to this cost-saving measure. Two of the public safety antennas installed on the water tower cannot be mounted on the trailer.

These are the city’s HR TACRAN microwave and ORION microwave. HR TACRAN is the city’s means of communication during times of disaster, and its link to the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. ORION is its link to other law enforcement and emergency services agencies in the Hampton Roads region in the event that they would need to respond to an incident in Franklin, or Franklin would need to respond to an one outside the city.

Jarratt explained that the water tower maintenance was supposed to have been completed in 2018, and confirmed that the project’s contractor had notified the city in February of that year that it would need to remove the telecommunications equipment from the water tower before work could begin. However, she did not know why the decision to relocate the equipment had been delayed until this year. At the council meeting, Mayor Frank Rabil said he too was not sure why the council delayed removing the equipment until now.

As such, the trailer-tower will be an unbudgeted expense, with some funds coming from the city’s unassigned general fund balance. Other funds, according to Jarratt, will come from savings from additional deferred purchases.

That said, the trailer-tower will not be the only new expense associated with the water tower maintenance project. The city must also eventually reinstall the telecommunications equipment on a permanent structure — either by putting it back on top of the water tower once the maintenance is complete, or building a new, permanent tower near the Hunterdale site.

Reinstalling the equipment on the water tower is projected to cost $80,000, while building a new, permanent tower is estimated to cost between $300,000 and $350,000. The downside to the lower-costing option is that in another 10 years, the city will need to relocate and reinstall the equipment again when the water tower is due for its next maintenance.

The dissenting votes on purchasing the trailer-tower came from councilmen Bobby Cutchins and Greg McLemore.

To date, the council has not made a decision on either option for reinstallation of the equipment. However, Jarratt said that the city plans to have a budget amendment accounting for the unplanned $70,000 expense go before the members of council during their Feb. 25 meeting.