CLAXTON — A site work crew is preparing the pad for the new City Hall, a $1 million project the city government has been saving for, for years.
The new building will not entirely replace the existing City Hall, also known as the Perry Lee DeLoach Municipal Building, but is being built beside it on Claxton's Railroad Avenue. The older building will still house the Claxton Fire Department and Claxton Police Department, the courtroom and city jail, while the mayor, city administrator and billing clerks will have offices in the new, 6,210-square-foot building.
"It's going to be new and clean and we're going to have individual offices," City Administrator Gayle Durrence said. "We won't be so jammed and stacked like we are now."
The new building will include a 425-square-foot City Council chamber, a separate conference room and a cashier's station for people paying their utility bills and taxes. It will also provide record storage and a break room with a kitchen.
One modern convenience will be new to Claxton's water-and-sewer, sanitation and natural gas customers.
"We're going to have a drive-thru window," Durrence added. "We don't have a drive-thru and we didn't have a place we could put one."
She didn't mention this, but Hagan, Evans County's second-largest town, had a newer city hall than its neighbor Claxton, the largest town and county seat. Hagan City Hall has a drive-thru for paying bills, as does Statesboro's.
SP Design Group of Macon designed the new Claxton City Hall, which will have a metal roof and masonry exterior. Paul S. Akins Co., of Statesboro, is the general contractor. Fourteen construction firms picked up specification packages and seven submitted bids, opened April 24. Akins' $1,018,300 bid was the lowest, and Claxton City Council unanimously awarded the contract May 5.
Unlike many municipal projects in the area, the work is not being funded from a special sales tax.
"We've been saving this money for years and years and years," Durrence said.
Much of it, she said, came from the city's natural gas system. Claxton controls natural gas lines far outside its city limits to the east on U.S. Highway 280, serving customers in Pembroke and in Bryan County's industrial park beside Interstate 16.
Durrence, who has worked for the city 40 years, said the existing City Hall was in use before she arrived, and she isn't sure when the first portion was built.
Claxton's former railroad depot, which until recently housed the Evans County Emergency Management Agency and, previously, an American Red Cross office and the Evans County Christian Food Bank, was demolished last week to make room for the new city building.
"I hated to see that, but we didn't really have much choice," Durrence said. "With the location, it would have been hard to get out and make the turns, and then we found termites in it, and it had been added onto."
The railroad tracks and their retaining wall would have hampered turning onto Railroad Avenue with a building. The tracks were moved closer and the wall built in the past five years during the widening of Highway 280.
Decades ago, the depot was moved to City Hall from its original spot, nearer the intersection of U.S. highways 301 and 280. The city owned the depot and provided it free the nonprofit organizations.
The heavy wooden beams of the depot floor remained Monday. City officials wanted to salvage the floor for use as a loading dock, but Durrence said she didn't know if even this would be possible because of the difficulty moving the floor without cutting it up.
When the city's central administrative and business functions move to the new City Hall, the police and fire departments will be able to expand inside the older building, which will also retain the city courtroom and jail.
The Fire Department will gain office and training space and storage, Claxton Fire Chief Harold Rogers said. The building will receive only limited renovations, such as removing a wall or two, according to Rogers.
"We've got some storage spaces that we're having to use that are not even in this building for some of our gear and stuff, so it will definitely help to have everything here where we need it," he said.
Officials expect the new City Hall to be completed around the end of this year.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.