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Gainesville, Hall County unsure about office buildings futures
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As a move for the Hall County government is both ongoing and imminent, plans for the building jointly owned by the county and the Gainesville government aren’t as clear.

But it is very possible that the currently aptly named Joint Administration Building at 300 Henry Ward Way will soon just belong to the city.

Gainesville and Hall County have, for more than three decades, shared space in the three-story downtown building.

Each year since 1977, at least, they’ve divided the annual costs for upkeep and utility bills based on each government’s use of the building. Last year, the county’s share was a little less than 49.5 percent, said Gainesville’s Administrative Services Coordinator Melody Marlowe.

The percentage equaled about $83,544 in county costs, Assistant Hall County Administrator Marty Nix said.

The agreement is supposed to last until 2017 or until the governments mutually agree to terminate it.

With Hall County setting up shop on Browns Bridge Road, the latter is more likely.

Hall County officials have, for months, been orchestrating a move of headquarters from various buildings in Gainesville to a sole building on the corner of Browns Bridge and McEver roads.

The building, purchased from Liberty Mutual for $6.1 million in 2010, contains about 97,000 square feet of office space that county officials spent about $2.9 million renovating to fit their needs.

Until this week, Hall County’s engineering department was housed in the Joint Administration building. The offices of tax commissioner and tax assessor are also located in the building until at least mid-October.

But as they make the split, officials from both governments say they’re trying to work out an agreement that’s mutually beneficial.

Nothing is final, but each expects a decision within the next two months.

“We’re currently talking with the city on all our options to vacate that building,” said Nix.

Gainesville has an option to buy Hall County’s stake, the city’s Mayor Danny Dunagan said.

Gainesville City Manager Kip Padgett said city officials are letting the county take the lead in the talks.

“What we’re doing right now is just talking to them ... really trying to determine what their needs are and go from there,” Padgett said.

Dunagan said city officials are in the process of getting the building appraised. If the city chooses not to buy the county portion, county officials could lease the leftover office space, he said.

But if the city does buy out the county’s stake, Padgett said it could fill the building’s empty offices with employees from city departments that are currently spread among other buildings the city owns, including the building called Green Street Station that currently houses the city’s community development department.

Dunagan described the possibility much the way county officials have their new digs on Browns Bridge — as a “one-stop shop” of city services.

In that case, Padgett said, city officials would consider leasing those buildings.

Again, nothing is definite.

Along with other county departments that made the move to the new county headquarters this week, the county’s planning department, its business license office and its buildings inspections office relocated from their former homes on Prior Street.

That Prior Street building, which also houses the Community Service Center, is owned by the county but sits on city-owned property. It may become a part of the trade that city and county officials discuss as the county backs out of its ownership on Henry Ward Way, officials said.

In 2010, when county officials purchased what would become their new headquarters, then-Assistant County Administrator Phil Sutton mentioned plans to move offices of the state health department to that Prior Street building.

Sutton’s successor, Nix, said that option is still on the table.

Currently, the health department operates out of two buildings on Athens Street and Thompson Bridge Road in Gainesville. The offices on Thompson Bridge Road are for serving children with special needs, and were housed in the Prior Street building until 1999, District 2 Public Health spokesman Dave Palmer said Wednesday.

Palmer could not say immediately Wednesday whether there were ongoing talks with county officials on relocating the health department.

“The county is now looking at all options on either surplusing any office building that we will not be using or coming up with other options where other government agencies can occupy those buildings,” Nix said.

Another such building is the Hall County Courthouse Annex, where the county’s offices of administration, human resources and finance are now located.

The annex is county-owned, as is another building the county vacated relatively recently, the former Parks and Leisure Building on Rainey Street.

When the other departments make the move in late October to the new headquarters, Nix said the two vacant floors of the annex will be “powered down” until officials can find another use for them.

It is possible that the building may be used for any future expansions of the Hall County courthouse, but Nix said such a move isn’t necessary today.

“At this point in time, we have no immediate need to move any offices into this building,” Nix said.

As for the old Parks and Leisure building, Nix said the county is still considering selling it to the Gainesville Board of Education. The building is adjacent to Gainesville High School, and Gainesville school Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said members of the city board of education are interested in the property because of its location.

Still, she said, such a purchase is “not a priority this fiscal year” for the board of education.

“But they haven’t closed the door to it,” either, Dyer said.

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