CLINTON—Anderson County officials are taking steps to move the General Sessions Court in Oak Ridge from a privately owned building to a county-owned building and to move the county’s Senior Center into a larger space in Clinton.
Both projects have been discussed at the most recent meetings of the Anderson County Commission in Clinton.
Last Monday, May 15, Anderson County Commission approved about $1.4 million in borrowing through capital outlay notes that can be used for capital projects, including the General Sessions Court and Senior Center. The funding will include $500,000 for renovation work for the Anderson County General Sessions Court, Division II, and $600,000 to purchase the new Senior Center building, Anderson County Commissioner Robert McKamey said. The money is being borrowed at a 2.35 percent interest rate for 12 years. The $1.4 million also includes $300,000 for capital projects, which could include roofs on a few buildings.
The county will repay the capital outlay notes from the general fund, McKamey said.
The bids on the renovation work for Anderson County General Sessions Court, Division II, in Oak Ridge, had come in higher than expected in April. The low bid of about $530,000 from Preen Construction of Knoxville was announced during County Commission’s April 17 meeting.
Officials had previously said the renovations could cost about $300,000, citing an estimate from Michael Brady Inc., a Knoxville architectural firm.
During the April meeting, after the higher-than-expected bids were announced, County Commission approved, on a voice vote with no opposition, a motion by Commissioner Myron Iwanski of Oak Ridge to negotiate with the low bidder, Preen Construction.
After that meeting, Commissioner Phil Yager, also of Oak Ridge; Anderson County Law Director Jay Yeager; Charles Grant, senior vice president at Michael Brady Inc.; and Preen Construction have worked to make changes to reduce the renovation costs, Yager said Friday. They were able to shave about $41,000 off the cost of the renovations.
Among the changes: They didn’t have to use the highest-quality doors; they “priced in” putting inmates in the back of the courtroom, rather than in a separate room or prison holding facility; they decided to use more industrial-grade carpet; and they reconfigured a customer entrance to avoid cutting into a block wall, Yager said.
Commission accepted the Preen Construction bid last Monday in a 15-0 vote that is subject to a contract. Anderson County Commissioner Chuck Fritts was absent.
As proposed, the General Sessions Court would move from the privately owned building on Bus Terminal Road to a county-owned building where the Oak Ridge Senior Center used to be on Emory Valley Road.
It’s not clear when the renovation work could start. The county’s current lease at the current building on Bus Terminal Road expires at the end of June. But the county has a month-to-month agreement at the current rate with a notice requirement of four months, Yager said.
“That gives us time now,” he said.
A contract with Preen Construction will be considered by the Anderson County Purchasing Committee before going to the Anderson County Commission in June, Yager said.
The new courtroom at the county-owned building will be in the big room where the pool and billiard tables used to be at the Oak Ridge Senior Center, which moved to the Oak Ridge Civic Center earlier this year.
The renovated courthouse space could include about eight rooms total in that section of the building, including office and court clerk space, as well as some possible storage space.
County Commissioners have said they could have purchased the Bus Terminal Road building for $800,000 or a bit more, but they already own the Emory Valley Road building. They have been told that a new building could cost even more, possibly at least $1.5 million.
“We don’t have a lot of other options,” Iwanski said last month.
Commissioner Steve Mead, also of Oak Ridge, said in meetings this month and last month that it’s better for the county to renovate a building that it already owns than to continue to maintain and pay property taxes on a building it doesn’t own.
To help the project, the Oak Ridge City Council agreed in April to contribute $30,000 per year for five years to continue operating Anderson County General Sessions Court in Oak Ridge. The money will be used for court operations and capital costs for Anderson County General Sessions Court, Division II, in Oak Ridge.
Regarding the Senior Center project, McKamey, who has been helping with that effort, said the current facility has been behind Walgreens in Clinton since October 2015. But there is general agreement that that 2,400-square-foot center is too small. It only has a office, kitchen, and one big room, meaning the Senior Center can’t have more than one program right now, McKamey said.
The county is closing on a new building, a 15,600-square-foot building at 205 Main Street in Clinton, on July 3, for $600,000, McKamey said. It’s currently owned by Clinton businessman and attorney Michael Farley. The sale will include the land, the building, and 122 parking spots.
Besides the Senior Center, the space will also house the Anderson County Office on Aging.
County Commission agreed last week to also spend $15,000 to buy various furniture, audiovisual equipment, lighting, and Christmas decorations as part of the building purchase. They were told those supplies could normally cost about $35,000.
Anderson County commissioners said they want to continue to honor their lease at the current 2,400-square-foot building, which is owned by Teresa Portwood. That $1,500-per-month lease doesn’t expire until October 2018. The county could use that space for storage, McKamey said, or Portwood could put the building back on the market.
McKamey said the building at 205 Main Street is rated for up to 800 people. With no load-bearing walls, it will only require minor renovations, he said.
There has been some discussion during the past two meetings about ensuring that the new building is accessible to seniors, including making sure that they don’t have to walk uphill through the building’s parking lot.
Seniors could continue holding events there, possibly generating revenue that way by hiring an events coordinator on a commission basis, but they won’t have to hold events to pay for it, McKamey said, because the county is paying for the building.
With the additional space, the Senior Center will be able to add programs, including some it hasn’t had before, he said.
“I’m just thrilled for the seniors,” McKamey said.
There have been as many as 80 people at one time at the current building, and it was filled up within a few months at its current location, McKamey said.
Cherie Phillips of the Anderson County Senior Center has said the new building is of perfect size, in a perfection location, and has plenty of parking.
Like the planned new home for the Anderson County Senior Center, the proposed Senior Center in Oak Ridge is also expected to be about 15,000 square feet.
The $1.4 million in borrowing for the county’s Senior Center, General Sessions Court renovations, and capital projects was approved in a 14-0 vote last week, with Fritts and Commissioner Mark Alderson absent.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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