The Republic Masthead

Future of annex building keeps officials at odds

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Water damage in a storage room is the result of moisture seeping through deteriorating mortar joints.
Water damage in a storage room is the result of moisture seeping through deteriorating mortar joints.

The Bartholomew County Annex Building, pictured Sept. 19, 2012, was constructed in 1928 as an elementary school. The front entryway is no longer in use.
The Bartholomew County Annex Building, pictured Sept. 19, 2012, was constructed in 1928 as an elementary school. The front entryway is no longer in use.

Construction of a new Bartholomew County Annex building would cost taxpayers almost 55 percent more than renovating the current State Street facility, a new study says.

Almost 20 people gathered to hear a presentation earlier this month by DLZ Indiana Inc., a engineering and architectural firm paid $14,000 to conduct the study.

If a new 25,000-square-foot building is designed and built northwest of the current building at 1971 State St., construction costs are expected to be $4.95 million, said Eric B. Ratts, principal architect for Indianapolis-based DLZ.

In contrast, construction costs to extensively renovate the 85-year-old former school are expected to run $3.2 million.

Whichever option is selected, the county would pay an additional 25 to 35 percent in soft construction costs such as financing, professional fees, surveying and furniture, Ratts said.

When all expenses are combined, the total price tag for a new building could cost $6,682,500, while renovation costs could climb as high as $4,329,000.

The decision has long had County Council members and county commissioners at odds.

Commissioners say they are ready to begin spending money toward replacing the building — only to watch the council strip that funding from next year’s budget.

Since a new building would provide substantially more space, the cost of renovation vs. building new would be roughly the same on a per-square-foot basis, Councilman Bill Lentz said.

The councilman said he personally could support either option, as long as the final decision does not result in increased taxes for Bartholomew County residents. Lentz said he thinks the issuance of construction bonds can be avoided by using existing monies, especially the county’s rainy day fund.

While the study did not address the option of renovating an existing building elsewhere in the city to house the annex offices, Lentz said that option still remains on the table.

Council president Jorge Morales said he wants to further examine the possibility of using an existing building, citing the former Marsh Supermarket location at 2710 State St., now vacant, as an example.

Maintenance costs for a renovated building would be basically the same as they would be for a new building, Ratts said.

While the heads of county departments located in the annex feel they have adequate space for now, each department should anticipate about 10 percent growth annually, the consultant said. The proposed new building should have sufficient space to meet that growth, Ratts said.

The annex houses the Purdue Extension office, the Bartholomew County Health Department’s nursing program and the Women, Infants and Children program. But earlier this month, a health department representative said the WIC clinic would be severing its relationship with Bartholomew County over the condition of the county annex building and is planning to find a new location.

While extensive plumbing and electrical wiring problems have plagued the two-story building, most of the annex’s structural damage is the result of water entering the building, Ratts said.

While most related problems can be fixed, water infiltration has resulted in one exterior wall leaning off-center by a few inches, Ratts said.

While there is no immediate danger of a collapse, the leaning wall does have the potential to cause expenses to climb substantially, depending on how much damage is found during renovation, he said.

Ratts pointed out that most of the leaks were likely caused by the rooftop installation of 20-year-old heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment. The existing flat roof itself is 28 years old.

Commissioners Carl Lienhoop and Larry Kleinhenz seemed surprised when DLZ representatives suggested that if a new building is constructed, it should be a one-story facility.

Keeping the county offices on one floor would best serve the different ages and physical capabilities of those who regularly visit the various annex departments, Ratts said. He said the current property has sufficient space northeast of the current structure to house a user-friendly, single-story building.

“In our minds, we were always thinking about a multi-story building,” Lienhoop said. “But if you want to make it ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant, I guess multiple floors do become complex and expensive.”

County officials first began taking steps to save money for a new annex building in December 2009. Over the past four years, the council and commissioners have increasingly discussed and debated the issue.

During their next two meetings, county commissioners will openly discuss findings of the presentation and accept further public comments, Lienhoop said.

“In January, we will try to come up with a plan to present to the County Council in February on what direction we want to go,” Lienhoop said. “But at some point, sooner rather than later, we need to make a decision and move forward on it.”

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