NEWARK, Ohio -- The room in the basement of the Licking County Justice Center would make a great closet. Instead, it's home to rows of file cabinets, a jumble of cords and two workers who haven't seen the sun in hours.
This is the sheriff's dispatch center, though it won't be for much longer.
Contrary to the grumblings of skeptical dispatchers -- they've long heard whispers of such plans -- this office will soon merge with the Licking County 911 center at a location new to both of them. Workers are about to begin tearing down walls at the old Licking-Muskingum Community Correction Center to create the Licking County Joint Communications Center, a $2 million renovation and merger that should be complete in the next year.
"It's something we've been discussing for several years," said Kevin Carver, deputy director of Licking County's EMA/911 center.
And it might not have happened, had the pieces not fallen together so neatly.
First, there was the space: Last year, the state cut funding to the correction center, a treatment facility for nonviolent offenders at 119 E. Main St. Its workers cleared out so quickly that a stack of documents remained in the fax machine. Because the building sat on county property, the state agreed to lease it long-term to the county and eventually to just hand it over.
"This building falls out of the sky," said county Commissioner Tim Bubb. "We started looking around like, 'Whoa, this could actually happen.' "
Then came a partnership between the county and the Metropolitan Emergency Communications Consortium, a 911 center that dispatches fire and EMS for parts of eastern Franklin County. Together, the organizations landed a nearly $1 million federal grant to upgrade their dispatching systems and link the two for backup.
Finally, the county received a $500,000, 10-year no-interest loan last month from a new state fund created to encourage local governments to share services. Costs of the merger not covered by the loan will come from county funds and 911 fees paid by cellphone users, said Jeff Walker, director of the Emergency Management Agency.
"The stars aligned for this project," Bubb said. "Is it perfect? It's pretty darn close."
Most Licking County residents probably won't notice a change, but officials say the new 911 service will be faster and more accurate, and the merger of the two organizations will cut down on training and overtime costs. It also will help them handle the emergency calls that have multiplied as the county's population grew by 14 percent in the past decade. The county gets about 65,000 911 calls a year.
As for dispatchers, those with the sheriff's office will get out of that basement, and the 911 dispatchers on the third floor of the county child-support building -- where they have been since 1999, eight years longer than expected -- will finally leave their space full of mismatched furniture, ancient electronics and the occasional broken elevator.
Both will move into a wide-open first-floor center with windows and new computers. The new center also will feature a 250-foot transmission tower that will expand its radio reach.
"It's all moving along," Walker said. "I'm so anxious to see a change."