Berrien County to purchase American Electric Power building in Buchanan

Published 6:00 pm Thursday, July 14, 2022

ST. JOSEPH — Work is progressing on plans for Berrien County to buy the American Electric Power building in Buchanan. Berrien County Commissioner Jim Curran reported that a purchase agreement for the property will be presented to the county board next week. 

The property is located at 500 Circle Drive on the north side of the city off of Main Street. Curran indicated that the county is planning to buy the property from AEP for $200,000. 

County Administrator Brian Dissette said the county will use the property for several purposes but will also maintain space for AEP as well as for the city of Buchanan. 

“This is the future home of the upgraded Emergency Operations Center and 9-1-1,” Dissette told commissioners at Thursday’s county board meeting. “We will also build out the conference room there if the board wants to have more of a presence in the south county.” 

“We will be maintaining space for AEP’s emergency operations center so they will have a footprint on the site if something happens at D.C. Cook (nuclear plant), they work side by side with Capt. Adams of the Sheriff’s Department,” he added. 

“We’re also working with the city of Buchanan so they can move some of the city hall operations there to the first floor,” he said. “There are three floors total in the building.” 

“There’s still a lot of work to get through but getting title to it will allow us to start construction of the 800 megahertz tower first and then the buildout of the EOC and the 9-1-1 center as we hope to get state funding.” 

The county has been looking for a location for a new tower in the south county to improve emergency radio reception along the state line for the last few years. The county received a $5 million state grant to help pay for the tower project last fall. The entire project is expected to cost $7.8 million. 

In other county board news, commissioners heard a presentation about the county’s new Juvenile Center. The board is expected to hire Wightman & Associates along with the DLR firm to do site planning and design for the new center. 

Dissette noted that the current juvenile center in Berrien Township has reached the end of its life. Commissioners earlier this year concluded that the best choice is to build a new center on county owned property on Napier Avenue in Benton Township rather than invest in the Berrien Township property. 

Commissioners discussed the juvenile center project earlier Thursday in a committee of the whole session. The main concern raised was what locating the juvenile center there will mean to future plans to establish a campus of county offices including moving the county seat from St. Joseph to here. 

Currently, the Napier site is home to the county’s Animal Control and Health Department buildings. Dissette noted that other counties that have built new juvenile centers in recent years have built them near county jails and at least the family divisions of court operations. 

In other south county news, Curran reported that Sheriff Paul Bailey reported on the contract the sheriff’s department has with Niles Township to provide police services. Bailey told Curran’s administration committee Thursday that Niles Township is considering placing a one mill levy increase on the ballot to pay for additional services. 

The county’s contract with Niles Township currently pays for seven officers and the one mill increase would help pay for three or four additional officers. Bailey said that the Niles Township calls represent one third of all calls the sheriff’s department answers in the county. 

County commissioners approved a contract between the sheriff’s department and Buchanan Township to provide additional service for the Red Bud Track and Trail event scheduled for September.