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THE Bartholomew County Council has long been noted for maintaining a tradition of fiscal prudence.
That might explain the reasoning behind the recent decision to step back from a proposal to erect a new county office building on State Street, instead electing to spend $30,000 on a study to determine what it would take to repair the existing building, which has serious structural problems and is not compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
As far as studies in this community are concerned, the $30,000 price tag to study the State Street Annex is pretty cheap.
Some would suggest it is also pretty useless, since the answer to the question seems obvious to them. Moreover, there is a serious question as to whether the study needs to be about a building or the county’s overall needs and the most efficient way to manage local government.
The State Street Annex is 85 years old. Its structural problems include leaking walls and a porous roof, collapsed plumbing, unsafe stairs, an elevator that is too small and nonfunctioning restrooms.
Currently it houses the Purdue Extension office, the Bartholomew County Health Department’s nursing program and the federal Women, Infants and Children program.
Bartholomew County Commissioners had proposed a new building, asking $300,000 in the upcoming budget for architectural studies on a new project and $190,000 in related costs. Both items were stripped from the budget proposal by council members, who left only $30,000 for the study of the existing building.
While the council might have bought some time by essentially postponing any final decision for at least a year, the long-term implications of its decision might cost much more.
The condition of the State Street building is abysmal, and it wouldn’t be inappropriate to describe it as an eyesore. Even if the necessary repairs were made to bring it into compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act and the structural problems were addressed, the building still would be more than 85 years old and look it.
The council missed a marvelous opportunity in at least two instances.
There was an ironic twist in that the council’s decision was announced shortly after planners unveiled some attractive options for a State Street revitalization project. Included among those options were plans involving the county property. Three of the options took into consideration what the area would look like with a new annex, and a fourth explored the situation with a remodeling of the existing structure.
Throughout the State Street planning process, the county property has been seen as a key element in any effort to revitalize the area. Indeed, the county could stake out a leadership position by making the annex building a thing of pride. In its present state, the building — even if it is made more habitable — would still be uninviting.
The annex situation also presents the council with the opportunity to take a long-term look at the needs of county government in the future. Currently county government forms a shotgun pattern throughout Columbus, housing employees in the courthouse, county office building, court services building, county jail, county garage and the annex.
Some of this separation is not only preferred but essential. However, decisions on where to put employees and functions in the past were based on what space was available rather than what would be the most efficient model.
A new or rehabilitated county annex building would not resolve that problem, but it could present an opportunity to relocate some existing offices in a more efficient manner.
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