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Supes weigh land options for health department

 

Neal Wagner

 

The Lowndes County Board of Supervisors next month will make what may be the final decision on land for its upcoming new health department, board members said at a Friday meeting. 

 

Although the county previously planned to purchase an about 2-acre plot of land off Chubby Drive in North Columbus to construct a health department to replace the more than 50-year-old current facility on Military Road, a recently concluded civil trial against property owner Don DePriest has some questioning the purchase. 

 

Because the conditions attached to a $600,000 Community Development Block Grant being used to fund the expected $3 million construction project requires construction to be completed by August 2010, county officials must secure land "pretty quickly," said Lowndes County Administrator Ralph Billingsley. 

 

"We have at least two alternative properties we could possibly purchase if the DePriest property ends up falling through," said District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks. "We have the property near the corner of Lehmberg Road and Warpath Road and the property near Ceco on (Highway) 45 (North) we could purchase as alternates to the property on Chubby Drive." 

 

Because county officials are not yet sure if a civil trial brought earlier this month against DePriest by his former accountants will delay the Chubby Drive land purchase, board members delayed decision on the matter until their June 1 meeting. 

 

"By June 1, I will know if it''s a go or a no go on the DePriest land, and I will be able to tell you if we should go with that one or one of the alternates," said Billingsley. "The court hasn''t made a judgment in the case yet, so we won''t know if it will affect the Chubby Drive property until the next board meeting. 

 

"If they are still unable to give us an answer on the property by the next board meeting, we may have to go with one of the alternate properties," Billingsley added.  

 

Although the county is considering three possible pieces of property for the project, officials still are placing priority on the Chubby Drive land, District 1 Supervisor and Board President Harry Sanders quickly added.  

 

"I want to point out that these two alternate sites are just in case the DePriest land falls through," Sanders said. "If DePriest gets cleaned up before then, I think we have an obligation to purchase the land we agreed on previously." 

 

Because the three properties are about the same size and shape, the county has contracted JBHM Architects to draft drawings of the health department facility. 

 

"They are all shaped about the same way, so JBHM has drafted some buildings that would fit on all three properties," said Billingsley. "Having those ahead of time is going to help us with the deadlines we are going to be running into with our grant money. 

 

"I think the cost of construction would be about the same on each piece of land," Billingsley added.  

 

However, because JBHM used drawings of other counties'' health department buildings to design Lowndes County''s, board members said they would attempt to reduce the price paid to the architect firm. 

 

"I think the logic is that JBHM drafted a building after examining existing buildings and just making changes based on comments from some of our health department employees," Brooks said. "And that would involve a lot less work and cost for the company to complete than drafting a building from scratch." 

 

Because the usual drafting fee paid to the architect company of about 6 percent of the total cost of the building is "too high this time," according to Sanders, Billingsley will attempt to modify the county''s agreement with JBHM before the June board meeting. 

 

"I will try to come up with an alternate plan with JBHM and report back to the board next month," said Billingsley. 

 

"And if the alternate plan is unacceptable to them, we can just put the drafting project out for bids," Sanders added. 

 

Board members also said Friday''s meeting was much less eventful than some may have predicted. 

 

"If you would have read Steve Rogers'' column this week, you would have thought we were going to have a fight in here today because some of us were secretly planning to go with another piece of property for this project," said Sanders. "We''ve announced it, and it''s been public knowledge that we''ve had these alternate properties for a while now. 

 

"I can assure you that no secret deals or hidden meetings or anything have been going on with this," Sanders added. "Nobody is trying to hide anything from anybody." 

 

 

 

Project Star 

 

The board also revealed a few previously unreleased details of the upcoming "Project Star" at the Golden Triangle Industrial Park. 

 

Project Analyst George Crawford of the Golden Triangle Planning and Development District Friday explained one of the companies involved will be New Process Steel. 

 

The project also will involve a yet-unnamed company, Crawford explained. Once completed, Project Star is expected to create more than 65 jobs providing "fairly competitive pay," Crawford said.  

 

The announcement came after the board passed a resolution to apply for a pair of Community Development Block Grants to benefit the pair of companies involved in the project. 

 

"There are two separate companies that would benefit from these grants, so we are submitting two CDBG applications," explained George Crawford, a project analyst with the Golden Triangle Planning and Development District. "The grants will total $1.62 million, and, if the grants are awarded, the match money will be made by the companies involved. 

 

"The match money is 10 percent of the grant money, which would be about $162,000 in this case," Crawford added. "One of the companies, New Process Steel, has already agreed to provide $180,000 for the grant." 

 

 

 

ON THE WEB 

 

  • Read Steve Rogers'' column at cdispatch.com/opinions.

     

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