ALBION — Architect Daniel L. Weinheimer compared all of the information he threw at the Noble County Commissioners Monday afternoon to trying to take a drink of water from a fire hose.
The schematic design workshop Weinheimer led for his firm, American Structure Point Inc, did indeed contain a lot of data and options.
The Noble County Commissioners have tasked American Structurepoint with using the results of a space study to narrow down the options as they consider consolidating Noble County offices under two roofs.
The county currently operates in seven buildings that it owns and two buildings that are leased. To make county government more convenient for all those who have business with the county, the commissioners requested the space study to attempt to consolidate its operations under two roofs.
American Structurepoint presented five very preliminary schematic design options on Monday, centering on minor to major renovations to the Noble County Courthouse to three different options for a government annex building.
No pricing was attached to any of the options. Weinheimer said that will come after the scope and direction of the project have been narrowed down more.
The purpose of the meeting was to further narrow down the options by getting feedback.
Noble County Coordinator Jackie Knafel pointed out to the architects that the assessor’s office, which works directly with the commissioners and county council, needed to be close to the room where the county meetings will be held in the annex. One of the options presented by American Structure Point had the assessor’s office on a separate floor from the meeting room.
Weinheimer made note of the need for the assessor’s office to be close to the room designated to hold the commissioners and council meetings.
“That’s exactly the type of feedback we’re looking for,” Weinheimer said.
The commissioners took no formal vote Monday, but did offer some opinions which seemed to narrow down the options they will ultimately consider:
No justice center
One option the commissioners had initially considered was the construction of a criminal justice center which would house Noble County’s courts and the departments which support them, including the clerk’s office and probation departments. In that scenario, the other county departments would all move into the Noble County Courthouse.
That option was not one considered as part of American Structurepoint’s design package presented Monday.
Noble County Highway Department Engineer Zack Smith, who has been tasked by the commissioners with being the project lead, asked Weinheimer about the criminal justice center alternative.
“We did think about it,” Weinheimer said. “The courthouse has a lot of money in it as a courthouse.”
To build a county annex building, Weinheimer estimated, would cost approximately $200-$225 per square foot. To build a criminal justice center would cost $400 to $450 per square foot.
The county currently has approximately 31,000 square feet of space in the courthouse, he said. It would require another 40,000 square feet of department office space for consolidation under two roofs, according to a space study which anticipated needs through the year 2039.
Minor renovations to courthouse
Noble County Commissioner Gary Leatherman said he preferred the option of minor in place of major renovations to the current courthouse. The minimal renovation would include public restrooms on two floors of the courthouse, with two jury room restrooms on the floor which houses the courts.
The major renovation option presented by American Structurepoint would move the main entrance to the courthouse to the west side, creating a straight line to the entrance to the county annex, which would be theoretically constructed on the block currently to the west of the courthouse. The major renovation option would include allowing space for a fourth court on the second floor, located where the Commissioners Room is currently.
“The minimal (option) took care of the current problems,” Leatherman said. “That was more appealing to me.”
Leatherman and Commissioner Anita Hess both expressed opinions favoring a more traditional look to the annex building. The architects had presented three different types of potential architecture, from traditional to transitional to contemporary.
Commissioner Justin Stump said he also liked the traditional look, particularly an option with large windows to take advantage of the natural light.
The commissioners said they would study the schematic options further and offer more feedback to American Structure Point.
While financing a major building project was not a large topic of Monday’s workshop, it remains a critical factor.
At the commissioners meeting May 28, Jason Semler of financial consultant Baker Tilley Municipal Advisors, formerly H.J. Umbaugh and Associates, delivered a presentation to commissioners and Smith outlining the different types of government bonds, different thresholds that would give residents a chance to object to a tax-funded project and borrowing limits and how they would affect the county tax rate.
While the county could potentially take out $5 million in loans without changing its current tax rate, doing a full-size project would cause the county’s tax rate to increase around 8-10 percent.
Semler then explained two different thresholds that would allow property owners to potentially contest a tax bond-funded project.
The first of those starts at $5 million and opens a project to a petition and remonstrance process. For that process to start, 500 residents would need to sign a petition after the notice to borrow was advertised to the community. If enacted, the pro and con sides then engage in a petition drive to see who gets more signatures. If the pro side gets more, the project can proceed, but if the con side gets more, the project has to be shelved for at least a year before the government can try again.
The second threshold is at $15 million, which makes a project eligible for a referendum. If petitioned for by residents, or often if initiated by the government undertaking the project, a public question would be put on a primary or general election ballot, asking residents for permission to borrow for the project. Since it would be a county project, all county voters would be eligible to cast a ballot in the referendum.