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Decision on annex drawing near

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After two years of debate, a decision will be made this month on constructing a new Bartholomew County Annex building. That’s part of a timeline calling for groundbreaking a year from now.

A three-member Bartholomew County Council subcommittee will present the full council with its recommendation April 22 on how much money should be spent to replace the structurally failing 86-year-old building near State and Mapleton streets, and how the project should be funded.

That subcommittee — consisting of council members Ryan Lauer, Jim Reed and Rob Kittle — already has gathered individual spending limits from all seven council members that each is willing to support.

Although time will be permitted to debate and adjust the recommendation two weeks from now, the council assured the Bartholomew County Commissioners on Tuesday that it will provide a definitive funding amount during the special council meeting.

While commissioners and some audience members were expecting a recommendation Tuesday, Kittle explained that the group had just met for only 30 minutes earlier that evening and needed more time.

Lauer said he still wants to collect input from some non-council members before a recommendation is made.

Regarding funding mechanisms, Reed said there is still no consensus among the council members on that.

While the council also gave unanimous first-reading approval to an ordinance that gives elected officials broad choices on spending the county’s $4.6 million reserve, also known as its rainy day funds, council president Lauer described the action as a bookkeeping matter. The ordinance, which will be up for a final vote next month, was not mentioned in connection with the annex project.

Bartholomew County Commissioner Larry Kleinhenz said Monday that he believes a total of $5 million to $6 million to cover all costs will be necessary in order to address existing and future building needs.

But commissioners chairman Carl Lienhoop told the council Tuesday that $4.5 million will “get us what we need.”

“However, anything less than $4 million will really limit us on what we can do,” Lienhoop said.

The commitment to make a decision April 22 came one day after county officials met with representatives of the Cummins Foundation, which is being asked to pay architectural fees for the project.

The 60-year-old foundation requires a financial commitment to the project from the county before considering the request, Lienhoop said. If approved, the foundation would provide the county a list of five world-class architects for its consideration, Lienhoop said.

Preliminary talks are underway to lease part of the new annex building to Volunteers In Medicine, council members and commissioners confirmed Tuesday.

The free medical clinic recently moved from a downtown office on Jackson Street to a temporary location near 10th Street and Marr Road in early March, but the organization must secure a permanent home within two years.

The clinic, which serves about 1,200 patients annually, would complement what the county health department has to offer the community at the annex building, Lienhoop said.

But there are concerns among county officials that the inclusion of the VIM facility might jeopardize the grant from the Cummins Foundation, which only pays architectural fees for public buildings supported by tax dollars.

VIM is part of a national nonprofit network operated through private donations of money, as well as volunteer services by medical professionals, and receives no public funding.

There has been no indication that inclusion of the clinic might disqualify the annex from support by the foundation.

Tuesday’s meeting suggests growing public sentiment to move ahead with the project. Three members of the audience, including District 1 council candidate Jean Marr-Wilkins and county government watchdog Mike Lovelace, joined incumbent council member Jorge Morales in urging the council to quickly make its final decision on the annex building.

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