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New county annex envisioned

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Water damage in a storage room is the result of moisture seeping through deteriorating mortar joints at the Bartholomew County Office Annex Building.
Water damage in a storage room is the result of moisture seeping through deteriorating mortar joints at the Bartholomew County Office Annex Building. PHOTO BY ANDREW LAKER

While a proposal to build a new Bartholomew County Office Annex Building has not been approved, some county officials hope to start construction in the spring of 2014.

“We need to get this thing going sooner than later,” Bartholomew County Commissioner Carl Lienhoop said during Monday’s commissioners’ meeting.

Commissioner Paul Franke said it all depends on the level of support they receive from the County Council. He said that since the council eliminated requested architectural and engineering fees from the preliminary 2013 general fund budget, it could take a lot of time to break ground.

Current cost estimates for a new annex building range from $3.5 million to $5 million.

The three commissioners will meet Thursday morning to discuss funding options for the project with county tax consultant Dan Eggerman. The 9:30 a.m. discussion will be in the commissioner’s conference room at the Bartholomew County Governmental Office Building and will be an open meeting.

While issuing bonds is the traditional means for funding a new government building, Kleinhenz wants to explore several options.

They include creating rental space, which Kleinhenz claims could pay about 30 percent of the bond payment. He also pointed out that if the new building housed all county departments currently located in leased facilities, county taxpayers would save $17,000 annually.

County officials also are expected to meet soon with their counterparts at Columbus City Hall to see if they have any needs that can be met with the new building.

Kleinhenz said a number of people have pleaded with him to save the current annex building at State and Pence streets, which housed the former State Street school from 1928 until 1973.

“There will be some people that will fight to save this building,” Kleinhenz said. “We realize it has sentimental value, and it’s important that residents should have the opportunity to remonstrate. But we’re not scared to make a case to the community.”

Problems with the current building include multiple roof leaks, water penetrating through walls, collapsed sewage and plumbing, a lack of an elevator and old stairs that have been rounded by decades of wear and tear.

Commissioner Carl Lienhoop also said the building’s stairs present an obstacle to the elderly and often ill clients of the Bartholomew County Health Department’s nursing division.

“As you get older, you don’t like to climb all of those steps.” Lienhoop said. “But any office you want to go to, you have to tackle steps.”

He added that about half the designated restrooms are closed due to plumbing problems, and the building is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

But the biggest concern among most county officials is that the second-floor Health Department does not have a fire escape. With only one way to get in or out, both clients and employees could be trapped if a blaze broke out near the department’s front door.

While noting that the lot is large enough that a new building could be erected while the current facility stays open, Franke insists they are willing to look at alternatives.

“If the right offer came in, we’d consider selling it and constructing a new building elsewhere,” Franke said.

However, Kleinhenz said the property is worth about the same with the building as without it.

“State Street properties don’t command high values,” Kleinhenz said. “We wouldn’t get rich if we sold it. We’ve had some offers, but it wasn’t a lot of money.”

All three commissioners think a new annex building could serve as a catalyst for future investment along the State Street corridor. Franke was part of a 2004 study that eventually came up with a list of $46 million in suggested improvements for that section of Columbus.

“We put $5,000 into the study because the county is a major player on State Street,” Franke said. “We wanted to see what could be done to improve it, but now, that plan is lying on a shelf somewhere gathering dust. But we still want to build something that will uplift that area of the community.”

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