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County commissioners debut expanded boardroom at annex
$2M renovation of County Annex not all done yet, but space for public attendance doubled
Bulloch County Manager Tom Couch, center left, reads a letter of commendation from Gov. Brian Kemp honoring former Bulloch County Commissioner Walter Gibson, center right, for his service as commissioners held their first meeting at the newly renovated meeting room in the Bulloch County Annex on Wednesday. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

Bulloch County’s elected commissioners showed up an hour early for a rehearsal in the use of new audiovisual equipment in their expanded North Main Annex boardroom before the public arrived for the 5:30 p.m. July 5 meeting.

Not everything planned for the $2 million renovation of the “annex” – as the entire county administrative office complex on Statesboro’s North Main Street is called – has been completed. The remainder of the project could take “into the fall or before the holidays,” said County Manager Tom Couch.

But completion of the Board of Commissioners chambers and a more accessible building entrance with an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant ramp from the Walnut Street parking lot allowed the commissioners to return after eight months of self-exile. During that time their meetings were held first at the Honey Bowen Building on South Main and then out at the Bulloch County Center for Agriculture on Langston Chapel Road.

Before the renovation work began last November, the boardroom would hold at most 60 chairs, if carefully arranged, Randy Newman, the county government’s special projects director, said at the time.

But then an exterior wall was knocked out and the floor, roof and new walls built out, taking in about 800 square feet of what was previously parking area on the north side of the annex. With this added space, 106 chairs were set up in the audience area for Wednesday’s meeting.

“It creates a lot of benefits, I think, for the commissioners and the citizens who come,” Couch said. “For one thing, it’s definitely bigger. … When we were in the old environment we could comfortably seat, I think, about 45 people, and you might recall that from time to time we would have some overflow into the hallway.”

He described the 106 chairs for the expanded room’s debut as a “comfortable” arrangement with aisles of “ADA width,” aligned with the room’s new double doors.

“It’s definitely a big improvement,” said commissioners Chairman Roy Thompson. “This makes it easier for us to communicate, I think, and you feel more professional in a room like this. … It has been needed for quite some time, and I hope the citizens understand this is not for us, it’s for them, so they can all fit in this room and feel a part of the meeting.”

He added that he wasn’t saying there won’t be future meetings when some people will have to remain in the hall anyway, “if it’s an exciting enough topic,” but that the commissioners were excited about the new space.

For when overflow crowds occur, the new audiovisual system includes a wall-mounted video screen in the foyer at the nearest entrance, where a few citizens could watch a meeting while it is also livestreamed to the internet. Assistant County Manager Cindy Steinmann, who guided commissioners through mic checks and other preparatory steps before the July 5 meeting, noted that the screen wasn’t working yet.

But it wasn’t needed, since the July 5 drew a relatively small crowd. “Reserved for staff” placards had been placed in 18 seats in the audience area, but any not occupied by county employees could be made available to citizens, she noted.

The lighting in the meeting room is also a new design, using many light-emitting diodes.  Two large lighted circles are suspended beneath lighted ceiling panels near the center of the room. Recessed fixtures shine at the rear of the room and in front over two courtroom-like staff desks and over the commissioners’ dais. Other LEDS glow upward above crown molding along the walls.


Improved access

In addition to the three-fold ramp, the building entrance from the Walnut Street parking lots was rebuilt, somewhat less-steep steps with new handrails. Inside the meeting room, another ADA accessibility-minded feature is a carpeted ramp on the east end of the dais, in case some of the commissioners or key staff members might need it. The other end of the dais has two steps.

Aesthetic features include walnut-stained wainscoting around the room and on the winged dais and a backboard with the county seal behind it.

DPR Architecture – the Statesboro firm with architects named d’Arcangelo, Palmer and Rule – did the remodeling design. Lavender & Associates, as the construction management contractor then led the work on a $1,867,038 contract after some “value engineering” reductions from an original bid over $2 million. A change order in March added back $42,232 for the rebuilding of the rear steps, construction of the exterior ramp and some interior flooring work.

Meanwhile, Stage Front, a Savannah-founded company that specializes in audio-visual equipment installations, was brought in as a separate contractor to replace the audio system and screens and install a camera system to support livestreaming.

County staff members “were informed about two years ago that the system we had was discontinued and replacement parts became too scarce and costly,” Steinmann said in an email. “During the renovation, we took the opportunity to do a full replacement of the system and added a video system for livestreaming capabilities.”

The equipment and installation by Stage Front cost $91,996, and that plus other things such as furniture, landscaping and signage bring the total project cost to roughly $2,053,000, Steinmann said.

Another part of the renovation project that has been completed is the creation of a consolidated “Development Services” office, with that name and the county seal on the glass of the new door across from the commission boardroom.

Inside, there’s a row of three service windows facing a long, narrow waiting area with another big video screen on the wall at the far end. This creates “a sort of one stop shop,” Thompson called it, for zoning applications, land use plans and permits.


Unfinished work

But the interior of a smaller conference room created by building in the columned portico on the north end of the annex remains to be completed. An unusual aesthetic feature, keeping portions of the columns visible through glass, can already be seen from the outside.

An office will be created where there was previously a north-end foyer with a history exhibit about Bulloch County in wartime with tributes to its veterans and war dead. That exhibit is to be restored in the official front entrance of the annex, facing North Main Street, when some other remodeling is completed there, also work remaining to be done.


Gibson commended

All seven current commissioners attended the meeting, and former Commissioner Walter Gibson, who did not seek re-election and in 2022 and retired Dec. 31 after six elected terms, totaling 22 years, on the board, returned by special invitation.

Gov. Brian Kemp had issued a commendation to Gibson, who previously had a 32-year career as a vocational agriculture teacher, concluding at Statesboro High School. Couch read the commendation aloud and the current commissioners gathered around and joined in presenting it.

“Whereas during his tenure Commissioner Gibson distinguished himself with his deep knowledge and abilities related to the Bulloch County government and the Bulloch County school system, and … has served his community and the State of Georgia in many capacities throughout his career…,” stated a couple of the introductory clauses.

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