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The Bartholomew County Council has put the brakes on a County Commissioners plan to begin work on a new county office building on State Street.
During budget reviews last week, the council stripped the $300,000 the commissioners had sought to begin architectural work on a new annex building. The council also removed about $190,000 from other funds that were earmarked for annex work.
Instead, the council left the commissioners with $30,000 for the annex — enough to perform a study on what it would take to repair the existing building.
Commissioners have identified replacing the annex as one of their priorities.
The 85-year-old building, originally part of the East Columbus School at 1971 State St., is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and suffers from structural problems including leaking walls and roof, collapsed plumbing, unsafe stairs, a too-small elevator and non-functioning restrooms.
The annex houses the Purdue Extension office, the Bartholomew County Health Department’s nursing program and the federal Women, Infants and Children program.
Although the County Commissioners are the county’s executive body and set policy and the direction of the county government, the County Council controls the funding, including moving money from one fund to another and approving appropriations. The commissioners can decide that they want to build a new annex, but without council support they cannot fund the project.
Commissioners have estimated that a replacement building would cost about $5 million. Council members said at their budget review session last week that they were skeptical of the $5 million price tag and of the bleak future for the existing building. Council member Ryan Lauer suggested the $30,000 for a study of the existing building.
“How much would it actually cost to refurbish that building?” Lauer asked. “Really, what can we do with that building, if anything?
“The second thing to study is that if a new building comes into existence, do we have the right departments in that building? I don’t think we should assume the same departments would go in the same building,” he said.
But council member Chris Ogle said the body was simply delaying the work on the annex and some day a decision would have to be made.
Council President Jorge Morales said that council members don’t dispute the need to deal with the annex building. The county continues to build a cash reserve that could allow the work to be done without having to borrow
money for the project.
The county’s budget consultant estimates the council will have a reserve of about $6.1 million on hand at the end of the year and needs to keep only about $5 million in reserves, leaving more than $1 million for a project.
But Morales said he wouldn’t support a $5 million construction project without doing a study on what it would cost to do repairs instead of a replacement.
Commissioners President Carl Lienhoop said commissioners are disappointed but they would follow the council’s request, and he hopes the study could be done for less than $30,000.
“Right now we are on two different tracks. We hope we are right, but it may help to bring all of us on board,” he said.
Lienhoop said it is likely that the commissioners will perform the requested study from other funds before the 2014 budget even goes into effect.
“At the end of the day, even if we have to go back to them, we want to get that study done as quickly as possible,” Lienhoop said. “Our employees out there deserve it, they deserve us to act swiftly. We have been horsing around here too long.”
The annex is one of two county-owned properties on State Street that have been labeled as opportunity sites for a city-led study of the State Street corridor. A city consultant provided an array of sketches of possible uses for the annex property including senior housing, affordable apartments and park spaces.
The other county property on State Street is the Bartholomew County Garage near State Street and Gladstone Avenue.
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