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Cole County ponders options on using vacated facilities

Cole County ponders options on using vacated facilities

January 16th, 2014 in News

The Cole County Commission is looking to develop a master plan for how to best use county building space.

Eastern District Commissioner Jeff Hoelscher asked for the Wednesday meeting, saying he would like to see a plan that would address needs for the next five to 20 years.

"We've still got to decide what to do with the old jail and sheriff's house, and the Carnegie building still has many maintenance issues," he said. "I think we'd all like to get rid of the Carnegie, but we have to find space for the assessor's office and public defender's office."

Hoelscher said he wanted Presiding Commissioner Marc Ellinger to be involved as long as he is in office. Ellinger has said he will not run for a third term.

Ellinger said as they were building the new jail, commissioners had Architects Alliance come up with ideas for what to do with the space left in the old jail. They already have redesigned the sallyport to get prisoners in and out of court better.

"If I recall, the cheaper of the options was to tear down the jail and the sheriff's house, which would be around $2 million," Ellinger said. "Leaving the buildings up, but gutting the inside and leveling floors out would be more expensive, around $4-5 million."

Commissioners were told by maintenance director Greg Camp that the Carnegie Building would probably need $140,000-$160,000 in repairs and upgrades over the next five years.

Hoelsher said he'd like to find a way to move the assessor's office from there and into a place that they could share with the county collector.

"When I came here, the county was in good shape, and that's what I'd like to leave it in when I'm gone," he said. "Our budget is in good shape right now, we have a fair amount in our reserves, we have some money from the half-cent sales tax, and we have about $500,000 left in the receivership fund that we took money from to put in storm sirens around the county."

Western District Commissioners Kris Scheperle said for this to move forward, the commission would have to talk with elected office holders about what they felt their office space needs would be. They should also look at what space needs there are at the Prenger Family Center and the county health department.

"There's no easy solution," Ellinger said. "We've cobbled together a way for this to work now, but I think there is plenty of space, it's just not laid out properly. Ask any officeholder and they'd tell you they'd like more space. We may have to also look at renting some nearby office space."

Commissioners agreed that the most pressing need to be addressed would be getting a second jury room in the courthouse. To make that happen, they want to move Public Administrator Marilyn Schmutzler's office from the top floor of the courthouse down to the basement. That would allow for a jury room to be put in across from the top floor courtroom.