Annex, clinic not to join at hip after all

A new Bartholomew County Annex and new Volunteers in Medicine facility, to be built on the current annex site, will not have common areas after all.

Bartholomew County government officials and Columbus Regional Hospital Foundation representatives have determined they will not pursue shared facilities on the property such as a lobby, atrium, elevators and restrooms, Commissioner Carl Lienhoop said during a Monday meeting.

“We’re going to have two separate buildings,” Lienhoop said.

While commissioners and foundation officials had hoped to cut expenses by having the annex and free medical clinic share certain public facilities, both groups now feel they should not commit future governmental and foundation leaders to that arrangement, Lienhoop said.

Earlier this year, the foundation made a commitment to construct a new $3.25 million Volunteers In Medicine free medical clinic on the site near State and Mapleton streets, Lienhoop said. The county will spend that much on its own building on the site.

Concern over the responsibility of who would pay for maintaining shared areas has been frequently expressed by Bartholomew County Council President Evelyn Pence.

Additionally, county commissioners this week concluded that the structurally failing 86-year-old annex near State and Mapleton streets should be torn down before construction can begin on a new annex.

“The architect determined that, by having a clean slate on the site, we would have more and better options as we move forward,” commissioner Rick Flohr said.

But as a result, costs associated with a new Bartholomew County Annex building will go up because temporary offices for existing tenants will be needed while the new structure is built, according to two county commissioners.

While timetables have not been established, Lienhoop believe the current annex occupants — the Bartholomew County Purdue Extension Office, the nursing division of the County Health Department, and Adult Protective Services — will move out of the building late this summer.

The cost of the new annex had been a source of contention between the council and commissioners for more than three years.

On Feb. 25, the commissioners requested that the council authorize borrowing up to $5.5 million for the building to provide up to 22,000 square feet in space for existing and future tenants.

While the council decided to hold firm on its decision last spring to limit the construction spending at $3.25 million, its members did agree to add about $250,000 to pay demolition costs.

Since then, there has been some additional softening on the council’s position, Flohr said.

During a March 2 work session, council members stipulated their limitations apply only to funds under their direct control.

If the commissioners formally agreed to spend monies they control, such as a telecommunications fund and economic development income tax revenue, up to $4.125 million could be spent on the annex, council members said.

However, no formal vote or agreement on that arrangement has been made at this time between the council and commissioners.

Despite reassurances from county Auditor Barb Hackman and county financial advisers that issuing construction bonds would not result in a property tax increase, the council remains steadfast against borrowing money for the project.

While further negotiations are likely, Flohr said that any additional funding will not be spent on expanding square footage, but instead it will be used toward expenses such as rent for current annex occupants while a new facility is built.

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.