McLennan County commissioners are juggling several options as they work to reduce the county’s share of valuable downtown real estate, maximize use of existing facilities and consider moving departments into new buildings.
There are a lot of moving parts, and temporary arrangements may be needed as permanent facilities are made ready, CP&Y project manager Bruce Thacker told commissioners. CP&Y is an engineering and architecture firm that in recent years bought the Wallace Group, a local firm the county regularly hires.
“This is a work in progress,” Thacker said of the county facilities juggling.
When the county sold the former Grand Karem Shrine building and its downtown garage to Magnolia in November, it set the clock ticking to get other facilities projects rolling. Terms of the sale allow the county to lease space back from Magnolia for a year.
A growing archive of county records, many now housed in the disused downtown jail that is ill-equipped for large-scale records storage, is also creating a puzzle for officials to consider.
The Grand Karem Shrine building, 701 Washington Ave., houses the county health services department and the child support court.
The child support court could move to the county-owned Texas AgriLife Extension Service building at 420 N. Sixth St., which would cost about $774,000, Thacker said.
Before that can happen, the county would need to find a new home for the extension office.
County staff is considering the former Red Cross and United Way building at 4224 Cobbs Drive, which the county bought for $300,000 in September. The cost of moving the extension office there and a needed remodel would hit about $500,000, Thacker said.
However, bids for the work are expected to be released in the coming weeks, which will determine a more precise cost, Maintenance Director T.J. Jackson said.
When the county health services department leaves the Shrine building, it could go to the county’s Records Building, across the street from the courthouse, Jackson said. The Records Building would need about $375,000 in renovations to accommodate the department, and the work likely would affect human resources offices and space the elections department uses for storage, he said.
If the Records Building project is not feasible, the county may have to consider buying a new facility, he said.
“There’s still a lot in the air right now,” Jackson said.
Precinct 4 Commissioner Ben Perry said the county wants to get staff settled in facilities that would not need major rearranging for the next 25 years.
Perry said commissioners asked Thacker to revisit a $4 million estimate for a new vehicle maintenance facility near the McLennan County Jail on Highway 6 to replace the downtown county garage. Provisions for a temporary location are being made in case a new facility is not ready by the time crews need to vacate garage at 623 Washington Ave.
Commissioners are studying a 4-acre county-owned site near Loop 340 and Marlin Highway for the new garage and potentially a replacement for the McLennan County Archives Building at 824 Washington Ave. The replacement would allow the county to sell the downtown Archives Building.
About $1 million of the $4 million estimate for the garage is slated to address drainage issues at the property, Thacker said.
The existing garage has four bays, County Engineer Zane Dunnam said.
“In looking into the future of growth of McLennan County it’s possible that the need would be for eight bays,” Dunnam said. “It may be that we build something with four bays currently that could be turned into an eight bay in the future with an addition.”
District Clerk Jon Gimble said the volume of records his department stores in the Archives Building continues to grow. Most of the documents, which date back to the county’s founding in 1850, have to be stored permanently. Ideally, all records would be stored in one single-story climate controlled warehouse designed specifically for the purpose, Gimble said.
For now though, with space running low in the Archives Building, the county is planning to renovate the basement of the former downtown jail, now a disused kitchen, for use as a storage facility.
Gimble’s department started using the more open floors above for storage, but an engineering study revealed the higher floors have a limited load capacity, he said.
Gimble said he spent a few weekends with his father and uncle building wooden file shelves now in use on the higher floors, allowing a heavier rolling metal filing system to be moved to the basement once it is ready.
A new two-story, 75,000-square-foot building designed for archival and general storage to replace the Archives Building could cost $18.75 million, according to a document Thacker presented county commissioners.
Another potential project for consideration is a 12,000-square-foot CPS court building with two courtrooms, which would cost about $2.6 million, according to the document.