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Commissioners president calls for new facility for equipment, storage

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While Bartholomew County officials consider options for the aging State Street annex building, the county also should bite off another $1.5 million in funding to take care of the county highway garage down the street, a county leader said.

Bartholomew County Commissioners President Carl Lienhoop said that the county garage, opened in 1952, is in dire need of replacement — in bad condition and too old and too cramped for modern equipment. Lienhoop said he would prefer for the county to replace both State Street buildings in one swoop.

“It is just a 1950s facility that has just lived its life,” Lienhoop said.

He suggested that when the county makes financial arrangements to replace the annex building, it add in extra money for the garage.

“If we had to go out and get a bond for this (annex), I think we should go get another million and a half dollars and build a new highway garage,” Lienhoop said. “Our highway garage facility is in dire straits as well.”

No official cost estimates have been sought regarding replacement of the highway department garage.

However, Lienhoop said preliminary estimates four or five years ago indicated that $1.5 million would cover the cost to house the road department administrative functions and the equipment needs.

The county garage actually is about six buildings on the State Street lot. The main building has had several additions since it opened, including two pole-barn structures of open garage bays that keep vehicles partially shielded from the weather.

The bays are open to the elements on one side and, in the winter, the county’s trucks never have the chance to fully thaw, said Dwight Smith, the county highway superintendent.

Smith said that there is no place in the maintenance garage big enough to put the county’s large trucks up on a lift or over a mechanic’s pit, which means workers must crawl underneath the large trucks in the mud, snow and ice to work on them.

Although the Indiana Department of Environmental Management requires that vehicles be stored on impermeable surfaces to protect the ground from fluid leaks, the open bays have gravel floors, Smith said. IDEM also requires that the county keep its supplies of salt and sand/salt mix out of the weather, but there is not enough storage space, he said.

The newest building addition is a lean-to built against the back of the main building to provide some shelter for pickup trucks and smaller vehicles.

Danny Hollander, the county engineer, said the State Street widening expansion in 2009 made it impossible for the county trucks to make the turn into the garage directly off of the street. Instead, the county had to install a second set of doors on the back of the building, and trucks brought into the bays must be backed out.

County Council President Jorge Morales said he agrees with Lienhoop that the garage is deteriorating and replacing it needs to be investigated.

“I go back and ask, have we tried to consolidate with the city?” Morales said. “If that is the case, why do we need to have a new one. There may be reasons why we should, but we need to understand what those are.”

Last year, a Columbus-sponsored study of State Street identified the garage site, just west of the intersection of Gladstone Avenue and State Street, as one of the East Columbus locations in need of redevelopment.

The Lakota Group, the company performing the State Street study for the city, suggested two potential uses for the property:

A county campus with a new garage and other offices at the location.

Replacing the garage with retail and residential development.

The company’s recommendations were just suggestions. No official plans are being developed for either of those uses and no funding sources or methods have been discussed.

The county is considering options for the aging annex building after receiving a report from Indianapolis engineering and architecture firm DLZ Indiana last month. DLZ estimated that the cost to repair that building could be up to $4.3 million, while the cost to build a new structure to meet those needs would be about $6.7 million.

The 85-year-old annex 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.

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