Bartholomew County has two buildings — the annex and the garage — that are old, deteriorating and don’t fully serve the needs of the occupants.
However, county officials have long been at odds over the two primary options being considered:
Invest money into the existing structures, knowing the repairs might not fully meet needs.
Make a commitment to construct new buildings that will meet county needs while also meeting state and federal requirements.
The Bartholomew County Commissioners have been pushing to replace the 85-year-old annex, at 1971 State St., which houses the Purdue Extension office and the county health department’s nursing program.
The annex also has been home to the federal Women, Infants and Children program, but the Indiana State Department of Health is severing the program’s ties with the county because it is “concerned about the environment in which WIC participants are being served.”
Concerns expressed by WIC include:
Dangerous steps leading to its office.
Lack of child gates to prevent children from running onto State Street.
Lack of infant-changing space in the restrooms.
The annex also does not meet the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements and suffers from structural problems.
An engineering and architectural firm hired by the commissioners to conduct a study of the annex estimated the cost to repair the building, although not provide all the space needed for future needs, could cost as much as $4.3 million.
The cost to replace or build a new structure to meet future needs would be about $6.7 million.
Bartholomew County Council members have not been as quick to support a new annex, cutting about $490,000 from the commissioner-controlled budgets earmarked for the project. Council members have suggested first knowing what it will cost to make the building usable and compliant and to examine what agencies should be in an annex.
The idea of leasing office space instead of building another county office complex is one that should be added to the build-or-renovate options. But correcting the problems that exist with the county garage likely will require a financial investment.
Opened in 1952, the garage is a collection of six buildings at 2452 State St. Commissioners President Carl Lienhoop said the facility is too cramped for modern equipment and big trucks.
Garage 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, county highway superintendent.
The county is unable to keep its supplies of salt and sand/salt shielded indoors, per Indiana Department of Environmental Management requirements, because of a lack of storage space, Smith said.
And IDEM requires that vehicles be stored on impermeable surfaces to protect the ground from fluid leaks, but the open bays have gravel floors, Smith said.
While no official cost estimates have been sought to repair or replace the county garage, preliminary estimates four or five years ago said that $1.5 million would cover the cost to house the administrative functions and equipment needs.
County Council President Jorge Morales acknowledges that the garage is deteriorating and replacing it should be examined, but he has also floated the idea of consolidating the county’s garage with the city’s.
That idea opens an entirely new discussion about space and oversight of equipment and operations. While worth considering, it would invite another partner to the discussion and likely delay decisions even more.
We encourage commissioners and council members to schedule enough joint work sessions to find common ground and reach consensus on a practical solution that taxpayers can afford and benefit from — before yet another year slips by.