Illinois Valley Regional Dispatch in Peru unveils $1.5 million communications center

‘Government at its best,’ officials say of effort to save taxpayers’ money

State-of-the-art computers. Experienced 911 dispatchers. Room to expand. And the partner cities built it without raising taxes a dime.

Wednesday, a ceremonial ribbon cutting was conducted outside the $1.5 million facility housing Illinois Valley Regional Dispatch, which was formed in 2016 and serves as the dispatch center for most police, fire and EMS in the Illinois Valley. Partner agencies include Peru, La Salle, Oglesby and Mendota. Associate members include Spring Valley and the fire/EMS agencies of Utica and Earlville.

“You just need to know this: This facility is equipped for the future, the employees are trained to serve your communities and this center will not fail the residents of our 911 region,” said Mendota Police Chief Greg Kellen, current IVRD chairman.

It was a long time coming.

Lt. Doug Bernabei of Peru police said discussions of a combined dispatch center actually started 18 years ago. Things really took off when, around 2011, the partner agencies realized the state would eventually require the regionalization of 911 services.

Springfield did not disappoint. In 2015, a law was passed mandating the regionalization of 911 systems across the state.

“The legislation essentially dictated that La Salle-Peru, Oglesby and Mendota could be assigned to some 911 center somewhere by the state, or we could come together to set our own destiny,” Bernabei said.

An ad hoc committee was formed and the partner agencies found a few interested neighbors including Spring Valley, Utica Fire and EMS and Earlville Fire and EMS. In 2016, intergovernmental agreements were signed.

“IVRD is a product of the Illinois Valley working together for the benefit of all,” said Oglesby Mayor Dom Rivara.

The transition wasn’t easy, however. Bernabei readily acknowledged some “growing pains.” Telecommunicators had to spend six years working out of a 100-foot room and then a garage in the Peru Police Department — “Absolute warriors,” he praised them — and much of this as the nation grappled with the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The board of directors set out a long-term capital improvement plan for a state-of-the-art 911 communications center and to build it without raising taxes. The logical site was the old Peru Police Department on U.S. 6 and West Street, which became available when Peru launched a law enforcement center in 2020.

Kmetz and Associates of La Salle who worked with staff to design a “complete gutting” of the old station and Vissering Construction oversaw what Bernabei described as “a remarkable job transforming frankly an old 1950s-era car dealership into a 21st century 911 center, one that I believe is second to none certainly in all of downstate Illinois.”

The call center for the dispatchers will have room for four on-duty workers with the future ability to expand to six, if the need continues to grow.

The final cost came to $1.5 million. By consolidating, however, Bernabei estimated local communities have collectively saved $5 million.

“I would respectfully suggest that this is government at its best,” he said.