Boxes are stacked in some places and some “punch-list” work still needs to be done, but, for the most part, the new Hall County Government Center is open for business.
“It’s in a good location for everyone, I believe, and I think it will serve all the citizens very well,” said Assistant County Administrator Marty Nix, who helped lead The Times on a tour of the building Tuesday morning.
The building is at 2875 Browns Bridge Road, near McEver Road, in the former Liberty Mutual building, which was built in 1982 and sits on 33 acres. It contains all of the county’s key operations and departments, such as the tax assessor and tax commissioner’s offices, as well as public works and development services.
The Government Center, which has 525 parking spaces, is particularly busy these days, with residents flocking to the elections office for early voting in the Nov. 6 general election.
Creating a new government headquarters for the county has been in the plans for years.
In March 2009, voters OK’d the move as part of a special purpose local option sales tax, earmarking some $17 million for courthouse renovations and the move of county administrative offices.
The county spent $6.1 million in 2010 to buy the 97,000-square-foot building and then another $2.9 million in renovation costs. The project took about one year to complete, said Ken Rearden, public works and utilities director.
Officials were looking at several options, including putting up a new building. “As it turned out, this was a much more efficient way to proceed with (a new government building),” Nix said.
Renovation costs ended up being about $75 per square foot, compared to up to $200 for new construction.
“Plus, we were paying rent on spaces on several departments in the county. We were able to consolidate (them) so that we weren’t leasing buildings,” Nix said.
As a bonus, the county also got plenty of furnishings in the building purchase.
“It was cubicle city here,” Rearden said. “We still got hundreds of those things. We tried to surplus some of them, but there wasn’t really a market for them.”
One of the biggest open spaces in the building is the Hall County Board of Commissioners’ meeting room on the second floor.
It will seat 332 people and includes flat-screen monitors that will show speakers and close-ups of documents being presented during meetings. Windows line the walls, giving visitors a view of the building’s tree-filled property.
A fourth-floor cafeteria, opening soon to employees and the public, will double as an overflow room for commission meetings, featuring a TV screen that will broadcast the action.
As for the county’s interest in other properties it owns — or jointly owns, such as the Joint Administration Building at 300 Henry Ward Way — that issue is still up in the air.
“After we get settled in here, that’s our next priority,” Nix said. “We’ll be working on a plan of what to do with all the county assets — whether we’ll sell them, lease them or keep them or retain them for future growth.”
As for now, officials believe the Government Center will meet space needs for years to come.
At one point, Liberty Mutual had planned to build a second building — a twin of the original — at the end of a distinctive, second-story walkway that juts out from the building over the driveway.
“That’s still a possibility, if that’s something the county chooses to do and the growth warrants that,” said Katie Crumley, Hall County spokeswoman.