The Benton County Board of Commissioners took the first step Tuesday toward a major facilities improvement package aimed at addressing longstanding space problems affecting the Health, Community Development, Public Works, and Natural Areas and Parks departments.
At their regular meeting, the commissioners voted 3-0 to accept a $1 million federal grant for renovations of the main county health clinic and unanimously approved a motion to proceed with the design phase of a $9.75 million improvement project involving the Public Services Building at 530 N.W. 27th St., the Sunset Building at 4077 S.W. Research Way and the Avery Building at 360 S.W. Avery Ave.
Dennis Aloia, the county’s chief operating officer, told the board that the project will relieve serious overcrowding issues.
“We’ve done a really good job of extending the life of our buildings,” Aloia said. “(But) we’re cramming people into closets.”
Aloia also noted that this plan is significantly cheaper than an earlier proposal for a new health clinic, which would have cost an estimated $12 million-$14 million. He also said it would not require any additional tax revenue, meaning there will be no need to ask voters to approve a bond measure.
Financing for the project would still need to be approved at a future meeting, but county staff outlined a plan to cover the costs. The county already has $2 million set aside in reserves to cover part of the cost, plus the $1 million grant. The remaining $6.75 million would be financed with a bank loan, to be paid back with annual county revenues that are already in the budget.
Public Works Director Josh Wheeler said the plans are still at the conceptual stage, with some of the funding set aside for architectural and design work. If final cost estimates come in higher than expected, he told the commissioners, parts of the project could be scaled back.
The most ambitious part of the plan calls for a $6.75 million renovation of the Public Services Building, which houses the county’s main health clinic on the ground floor with offices for public health and administrative personnel on the second floor. In addition to reorganizing and updating the interior space for additional clinic expansion, Wheeler said, the work would include an exterior remodel “that would make this look much more like a medical office than the old building we have now.”
The Avery Building, which houses parks, public works and community development staff, would get a 5,000-square-foot second-floor addition at an estimated cost of $2 million.
The remaining $150,000 in the budget would be used to renovate 8,000 square feet of vacant space on the second floor of the Sunset Building.
All told, the project will take about three years to complete and will play out like a game of musical chairs.
The first step will be to finish the vacant office space at the Sunset Building. When that’s ready, some of the staff from the Avery Building will temporarily relocate to Sunset while their building is being remodeled.
Once the Avery addition is finished, the relocated employees will move into their new quarters, freeing up the Sunset Building space for a permanent relocation of public health and administrative staff from the Public Services Building. That will open the second floor of Public Services for further expansion of the health clinic.
While work on the Avery addition is underway, construction will also begin on the first floor of the Public Services Building, which means the health clinic will have to operate out of temporary quarters in modular buildings. County officials are still looking for a suitable location to put those modulars.
The work approved on Tuesday does not address the county’s biggest facilities needs — what to do about its undersized jail and seismically vulnerable courthouse — but Aloia told the commissioners it was a step in the right direction.
“This takes care of our building needs for 15 years or more and allows you to focus on how we’re going to take care of criminal justice,” he said.
Reporter Bennett Hall can be reached at 541-758-9529 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bennetthallgt.
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