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County workers play musical chairs
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County workers play musical chairs

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Benton County government is embarking on a game of musical chairs as it begins a major facilities improvement project involving three buildings and four departments.

The first phase of the project, a $112,000 remodel of vacant space in the Sunset Building at 4077 S.W. Research Way, is already complete. Eventually those offices will house public health staff and administrators from the Health Department, but for the next year or so they’ll be home to the Community Development Department.

The Community Development staff is currently housed in the Avery Building, 360 S.W. Avery Ave. That building, which is also home to the Public Works and Natural Areas and Parks departments, is in line for a $2 million renovation and expansion project that will create a 5,000-square-foot second-floor addition jutting out over one end of the current structure.

“This facility has been basically unchanged for the last 20 years,” said Community Development Director Greg Verret.

“There have been and continue to be space issues.”

Today 40 people work in the building, which measures a little under 8,000 square feet.

In addition to providing more office space for county staff, the expansion will include a redesigned permit counter, a new self-help center for the public and new meeting rooms with better public access. It will also provide flex space for future needs as departmental staffing expands.

“We don’t want to be reactive — we want to be proactive,” said Public Works Director Josh Wheeler.

The Avery Building will be closed May 5-8 to facilitate the move, reopening to the public on May 9. The Community Development Department staff — including personnel in the Planning and Building divisions — will reopen the same day in its temporary quarters on the second floor of the Sunset Building.

The last piece of the puzzle will be a $7.6 million remodel of the Public Services Building at 530 N.W. 27th St. That building has become increasingly crowded in recent years as the county’s main health clinic has expanded to accommodate a major influx of patients driven by a variety of factors, including the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion.

When the renovations are finished, the clinic will occupy the entire 36,000-square-foot building. The structure will also get an exterior facelift resulting in a more modern-looking façade.

Early next year, after work on the Avery Building addition is complete, the Community Development Department will move in there. At that point, public health staff and Health Department administrators will move out of their current offices in the Public Services Building and into their new permanent home — the Sunset Building space previously occupied by Community Development.

That move will allow work to begin on the Public Services Building remodel, starting with the second-floor space vacated by the public health and administrative staff. As the project progresses, the health clinic will temporarily relocate, either into rented space or into modular buildings placed offsite.

“We’re looking at all possibilities for where we could hold clinic space,” Wheeler said.

Construction is expected to take 12-15 months, with the clinic scheduled to move into the renovated building no later than April 2019.

While all the temporary staff moves will create some inconvenience for both county employees and the public, Wheeler noted that they will also save the taxpayers money by using vacant county offices rather than renting space wherever possible.

And, as Verret pointed out, “we’ve got to go somewhere” while the work is being done.

Carlson Veit Architects PC of Salem designed the Avery Building addition. Another Salem firm, AC & Co. Architecture Community, is designing the Public Services Building remodel. Both jobs are being put out to bid for general contractors.

Chris Bielenberg, who is retiring as the county’s facilities manager on June 30, will serve as project manager on a contract basis.

Reporter Bennett Hall can be reached at 541-758-9529 or bennett.hall@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @bennetthallgt.

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Special Projects Editor

Special Projects Editor, Corvallis Gazette-Times and Albany Democrat-Herald

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