The City Council Monday approved plans to enhance the city’s fire and police radio systems — a project officials say will cost $200,000 less than it would have otherwise because of a deal worked out with Northwestern University.

The city had planned to build its own radio tower at the municipal service center at 2020 Asbury Ave. But after the only bid for the project came in higher than expected, officials asked the vendor, Motorola, Inc., to look for cheaper alternatives.

The company discovered that an antenna placed atop the stadium at NU’s Ryan Field would effectively cover the area without requiring the expensive tower structure.

In a memo to the aldermen, Fire Chief Allen Berkowsky and Interim Police Chief Dennis Nilsson say the university has agreed to provide the site rent free, pick up the electrical service costs and provide connections between the university and city fiber optic cable systems to link the radio transmitter back to the city’s dispatch center.

The project still will cost over a half-million dollars, but the fire and police chiefs say they hope they’ll be able to get a grant from a fund created by the settlement of the Telecommunications Infrastructure Maintenance Fee Lawsuit to cover nearly half the remaining cost.

The fire chief says firefighters often can’t hear transmissions on the city’s current radio system inside many buildings in town and the 911 dispatch center often can’t hear radio calls from the field.

The new system will replace a single transmission antenna for the dispatchers with two antennas in different parts of the city and also set up a system of repeaters around town to capture and amplify calls from radios in the field.

The police radio system already uses repeaters, but the upgrade will provide it with enhanced reliability.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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