Board finds new home for Purdue Extension

A purchase agreement to acquire a permanent home for the local Purdue Extension office has been ratified by the Bartholomew County Commissioners.

The county announced its intentions Tuesday to purchase two buildings south of State Street at 785 S. Marr Road, where Premier Ag Co-Op, Inc. is based, commissioner Larry Kleinhenz said.

But the unanimously approved resolution is just the first of three required steps necessary to acquire the 31-year-old buildings, county attorney Grant Tucker said.

Under state law, the facility has to be evaluated by two different appraisers, and the price cannot exceed the average of the combined appraisals, Tucker said.

The entire property was recently appraised at $396,500, according to records in the county assessor’s office.

While the commissioners are reserving up to $700,000 to both acquire and renovate the buildings, Kleinhenz said he doesn’t anticipate many changes will be necessary.

The final condition is that the Bartholomew County Council must approve a resolution to use money from the Telecommunications Fund, which has a balance of $1,036,203, for the purchase, Kleinhenz said.

“We’re not asking for general fund or rainy-day money,” Kleinhenz said. “So this won’t burden the council.”

The commissioners are hopeful this week’s announcement will alleviate some political pressure to use money from that fund to purchase new radios and body cameras for county law enforcement.

“In my mind, this is sort of what we had planned (for the telecommunications fund) for 15 years,” Kleinhenz said.

The county is applying for a federal grant that would fully fund the purchase of the radios for the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department, with recipients expected to be announced next month.

Kleinhenz also said he will be calling for an additional $300,000 from the same fund to finance much-needed renovations at the Bartholomew County Highway Department within a few weeks.

With county finances remaining tight, the commissioner said he doubts the county council will agree to any capital improvement project.

“We’ve figured out that if we want this done, we’ll have to do it ourselves with existing funds we control,” Kleinhenz said. “If we don’t, we’re never going to make any improvements.”

Premier Ag, a 93-year-old farmer-owned cooperative, announced its merger with Jackson-Jennings Co-op in February and will be moving operations to Seymour, commissioners chairman Rick Flohr said.

In order to give sufficient time for the combined co-ops to build a new headquarters, the extension office — temporarily located a few blocks away at 965 Repp Drive — will not be moving until July 2017, Kleinhenz said.

While the current lease on the former Starks Mechanical Building expires in six months, Kleinhenz expressed confidence landlord Charles “Shorty” Whittington will allow the extension office to stay for another year. When the lease was announced last summer, the rent was established at $3,596 a month.

Since more than 8,000 square feet of combined space is being acquired on the 1.72-acre site, another county department currently renting or leasing space will likely move into one of the buildings, Kleinhenz said.

Bartholomew County Soil and Water Conservation was identified as a potential candidate by the commissioners.

Commissioner Carl Lienhoop said the county discovered the Premier Ag Co-op property was available less than a month ago.

Kleinhenz said if negotiations had been made public earlier, it’s likely taxpayers would have been forced to pay full price.

“There were other interested parties,” Kleinhenz said. “It is a very attractive piece of property.”

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