WALKER — The city’s Safe House, completed earlier this year, should be ready for use by athletic teams early next year and a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the official opening of the facility could be held within the next few weeks, Mayor Jimmy Watson said Nov. 10 at the City Council meeting.

Public Works Director William Lawson’s report to the council that asphalt had been laid in a portion of the Safe House’s parking lot prompted the discussion about when the building might be ready for general use by members of the community. Watson said the parking lot improvements, and some minor work on the Safe House, will clear the way for the building’s opening.

“We still have to stripe the floor of the Safe House for basketball, pickle ball and perhaps some other sports activities, and we have to put up basketball goals and make other accommodations. We are hoping that the city’s Biddie Basketball teams will be able to at least practice in the building very early next year,” Watson said.

Discussions are still underway on several aspects of how the building might be used by various groups. “We need to start using this building … it is a great facility, but we need to keep exploring how it will be used other than for its designed purpose, which is as a command center in the event of emergencies, and as a sports center. We will have some discussions on how to use the building and the council will be kept informed as we move forward. I welcome input from the council about how to use this facility,” Watson said.

The Safe House, in Sidney Hutchinson Park, was constructed at a cost of approximately $3.4 million. The Federal Emergency Management Agency bore the majority cost of the building and the city contributed to its funding, adding moneys to make the building more adaptable for sports events. The building is constructed in such a way that it can withstand extremely high winds and is equipped with an industrial sized generator that is capable of providing power in the event that the city loses its power source.

In the event of a natural or other disaster, elected officials, emergency personnel and communications experts will use the facility to coordinate disaster responses. Other than during emergency situations, the building can used as the city sees fit.

In other business, the council:

  • Voted unanimously to change the city’s Employee Handbook to reflect the amount of leave time that an employee can carry over. Chief of Staff Jamie Etheridge told the council that the amended rules regarding leave time will reflect that employees can carry over the amount of leave time they choose and that they can also use leave time as they see fit. Under the new policy, there will be no maximum rollover of leave time for employees. Earned leave time will accrue and be available as needed for employees. However, upon termination, a maximum payout of hours will be set by the new schedule adopted by the council. For example, an employee who has been on the city’s payroll for less than two years earns 80 hours of leave time a year. Those employees can carry over as much leave time as they choose, but the maximum payout should the employee decide to terminate his or her employment will be 120 hours. Etheridge said that the new policy allows employees to use leave time as they see fit.
  • Heard from Wendy Montalbano, director of the city’s water and waste water systems, on features of a new software system, the Dude Solutions, that she said will streamline the city’s administrative team’s ability to maintain maintenance and other records. “With this system, the administrators can better control many aspects of what their employees are accomplishing. The system is very easy to use and will allow the mayor and council members to more easily monitor what is being accomplished by our city crews.” Montalbano said the Dude Solutions system will reduce paperwork and will give crews in the field the ability to do such things as write work orders remotely while actually at a job site. She said that in-house training on how to use the new system by employees will be offered soon.
  • Unanimously approved the promotion of Gregory “Brant” Aydell from Reserve Officer status on the Walker Police Department to full-time status. Aydell is POST Firearms certified and has completed all required training for reserves. He is a U.S. Army veteran of eight years.