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Time is running out for the 84-year-old State Street School building.
Bartholomew County officials have taken the first steps toward moving its offices out of the two-story brick structure at State Street and Pence Avenue.
The County Annex Building houses the Purdue Extension Service, the federally funded WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program and the nursing division of the county health department.
“The building’s usefulness has been met,” County Commissioner Paul Franke told the county council this month. “It needs to be replaced.”
The commissioners’ president provided a more detailed list of problems.
“The roof leaks, water penetrates through every wall, the tuck pointing is falling out, the basement plumbing has collapsed, it’s not ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant, and some toilets and urinals don’t work,” Larry Kleinhenz said. “We could spend close to a million dollars trying to Band-Aid that thing. However, we don’t want to be spending good money for bad things.”
Carla Wolff, the health department’s assistant director, said there have been a number of times when her clients have fallen down the stairs, which have become rounded after several decades of foot traffic.
“We had a woman carrying a newborn infant that fell down about four of the stairs,” Wolff told the County Council. “The elderly are frightened of the (handicap) lift. There have been multiple times when we’ve considered calling an ambulance because somebody climbing the steps was having chest pains and breathing problems. So we have to go down the steps to provide the elderly with services. That becomes a legality issue, because we can’t provide them with privacy.”
But one of the most frightening scenarios facing the health department is that there is only one exit from the second-story offices.
“We did have a fire in that building a couple of years ago,” Wolff said. “If another fire occurs in front of our door, any person who is in our office, as well as the staff, will die.”
While Kleinhenz said an informal, recently formed committee considered the LHP building at Third and Franklin streets as a possible new location, he cited a lack of available parking and an estimated cost of $2.2 million for acquisition and renovation.
“And then, we’d be taking property off the tax rolls that is currently paying $20,000 a year,” Kleinhenz said. “Sometimes, when you buy an old property and put a whole lot into it, you end up paying just about the same amount as if you built a new building.”
The three commissioners told the council that, after considering all options, they are convinced the best long-term option is to erect a new building.
The commissioners originally set aside $250,000 in architectural and consulting fees for the project. However, those funds were included in $2.2 million in preliminary budgetary cuts recently made by the county council. The allocation could be reinstated before the 2013 budget comes up for final adoption Oct. 9, however.
Kleinhenz told the council he envisions a new building with an estimated cost of $3.5 million to $4 million.
Besides the three current tenants of the annex building, a new facility also would be home to the Veteran Affairs office and all divisions of the health department. He would like to see it constructed at or near the current facility, serving as a catalyst for positive growth along the State Street corridor.
After describing the current building as a health hazard, county council member Chris Ogle said he was completely in favor of the commissioners’ proposal.
“But I don’t want to spend a lot of money to make something look like the Taj Mahal for the architectural tour,” Ogle added. “I want a practical, safety-oriented and inexpensive building.”
If a new building is approved, a bond will likely be issued to fund the project. Kleinhenz said the cost could be reduced if rental space were made available in the new building.
“We feel we could pay about 30 percent of the bond payment by tenant payments,” Kleinhenz said.
No vote on the matter has been taken by either the commissioners or the council. Local officials say it likely will be several months before official action is considered. However, no county elected official has voiced opposition to the concept.
“I think we all agree it’s something that has to be done for many reasons,” Environmental Health Director Collis Mayfield said. “I don’t think there’s an argument there. Its just finding the funds to do it and getting everyone started.”
If community opposition arises, some of it may be based more in nostalgia than finance. Several older Columbus residents attended State Street School as children.
“It was part of my childhood,” said 60-year-old David Sechrest, who runs the Historic Columbus Indiana website. “You spend six years in a building, and you get kind of attached to it. It will be sad to see it go.”
The original State Street School was erected in 1905. The current annex building was constructed east of the old building in 1928.
Both buildings continued to function as one campus for almost half a century until Fodrea Community School opened in 1973. At that time, the older building was razed and the remaining structure became the county’s annex building.
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