The Ravalli County Commission is finally investigating a list of potential infrastructure problems in the 33-year-old courthouse basement, including a sewer line leak and serious risk of flooding. The latter is of particular concern to the county’s 911 Dispatch Center, housed in the building’s basement.
Brian Jameson, county maintenance supervisor, says this summer’s scheduled review of the problems is a long time coming. The basement, which sits below high groundwater level from May to September, has flooded once in 25 years. Pumps operate continuously during those months, at considerable cost to the county. Jameson says repairing the drain system is essential to preventing future flooding but there’s recent doubt whether it holds back the groundwater level at all.
“If we did have a flood, we have the 911 center down there and that would be a big problem,” Jameson says.
Dispatch director Joanna Hamilton says the danger is a serious concern for her department, one she’s voiced repeatedly to the commission during her six years in the position. Jameson says past discussions about moving the center to higher ground have “gone around and around,” but were ultimately abandoned citing financial restrictions.
Dan Hoffman, a hydrologist with Missoula contractors PBS&J, conducted a survey of the basement in January. In addition to concerns over the drain system’s integrity and functional value, Hoffman says a sewage pipe below the floor could be leaking waste in close proximity to a well. Jameson says the well services sprinklers and other irrigation for the Ravalli County Museum lawn.
Commissioners plan to replace pumps and equipment following completion of Hoffman’s review. Commissioner J.R. Iman says he understands the concerns for the center, but the county is doing what it can to maintain safety with the limited dollars available.
“I don’t think we have any kind of unmanageable risk,” Iman says.
The 911 Dispatch Center is scheduled to move as early as mid-April to a remodeled portion of the basement.