The nearly $2 million renovation project now beginning at the Bulloch County North Main Annex should add about 40 seats to the Board of Commissioners’ often crowded meeting room and create a new conference room from what until recently was an open portico.
About 800 square feet of former parking lot space will be added the commission chambers, with an extension of the roof and some exterior walls about 16 feet to the north. As a conference room, the former portico, which already has a roof, will measure about 440 square feet. Meanwhile, renovations to about 7,100 square feet of existing interior space will also create five new offices by dividing some current offices and enclosing open areas.
DPR Architecture – the Statesboro firm with architects named d’Arcangelo, Palmer and Rule – completed the plans in April. After a request for proposals for a construction management firm drew offers from five companies during the summer, county staff, using a scoring system, selected Lavender & Associates as the construction management contractor. Originally, Lavender’s guaranteed maximum price quote was $2,038,488, exceeding the county’s budgeted $2 million, but the company worked with staff to “value engineer” the guaranteed maximum down to $1,867,038 in September.
“So right now we’re under budget, but we’re having to add a few things that weren’t included, furnishings and things like that, but we can still stay under the $2 million,” said Randy Newman, the county government’s special projects director.
The $2 million has been earmarked from the county’s share in federal funding under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, or ARPA.
The value engineering changes included the use of wood framing instead of metal studs and standard bricks instead of thin bricks on the addition, installation of some manual instead of electrically operated doors and the elimination of some interior brick facing.
Earlier in the planning process, the architect and county staff changed the plan for the interior of the commissioners’ boardroom. The new design will have one lectern, which can be turned for speakers to face the commissioners’ dais or the audience.
An early draft included three lecterns, but two were removed from the plan to allow for more seating, Newman said. The new commission dais will rest on a platform about a foot above the public seating area, with steps at one end and a ramp at the other for improved accessibility.
Like the current boardroom, the expanded one will not have fixed seating, but chairs to be arranged or removed as needed. Currently, the room holds about 60 chairs for the public if carefully arranged. So, the projection that the expanded room will hold about 40 more chairs is an estimate.
“We’re hoping to get about 100 in there,” total after the addition, Newman said.
A handicap access ramp, switched back on itself twice, is planned for the entrance toward the Walnut Street parking lot, where there are only steep steps now. Changing the steps themselves to be easier to climb is one possible addition, he said.
April target date
The project is expected to be completed, or at least complete enough for the boardroom to be used again, in April, if everything goes well, Newman said Monday. Meanwhile, beginning with this week’s meeting, at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, the commissioners will be using the Honey Bowen Building, at 1 Max Lockwood Drive, as their regular meeting space.
Chairman Roy Thompson said the commissioners believe the project will be “well worth the time to wait and the money to be spent,” especially for the added space for public attendance at meetings.
“With everything that’s going on, we are having larger and larger crowds each time,” he said, and added that reporters “have personally witnessed a lot of people out in the hallway that can’t even get into the meetings.”
“That’s the major purpose to spend the money to add on, so that folks can get in there and hear what’s being said and know what’s going on,” Thompson said.
From now until probably April at earliest, the county Planning and Zoning Commission will also be holding its meetings at the Honey Bowen Building.
The five new offices will include one created by subdividing a large office currently available to the commissioners, another by enclosing an open area beside the chairman’s office and another by enclosing a reception desk area. Two other offices are being freed up or divided in other areas of the building.
Some of the renovated space will help create what County Manager Tom Couch has called a “one-stop shop” for county permitting. Responsibility for alcoholic beverage licenses and occupational tax certificates – commonly known as business licenses – has already been reassigned from the Board of Commissioners’ clerk to the Planning and Development Department. With the renovation, three permit clerks will have neighboring desks, said Planning and Development Director James Pope.
But Planning and Development will have to relocate for some time while the interior renovation work is underway. Their temporary offices will be across Walnut Street, in the building numbered 37 N. Walnut, where the department was some years ago. This move may happen in December.
The added conference room made from the columned portico on the north end of the building will retain the columns and even use glass to make them visible from the outside, Newman said.
Finally, the county historical exhibit – currently dedicated to Bulloch County’s role in wars of the 20th and 21st centuries – will be relocated from a foyer on the north end of the annex to the main lobby at the North Main Street front entrance. The Georgia Southern University Museum and the university’s public history program will decide what goes there before the exhibit is remounted, he said.