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Scattered county offices could find new home in old lumber yard in Jackson

Jackson County commissioners are considering whether to renovate the former Southern Lumber Co. building to get the county out of paying rent elsewhere for office space.

The county purchased the property and the 34,633-square-foot building on Skyland Drive in 2008. Architect Odell Thompson was asked to develop options for transforming the structure into county offices, and came up with what he termed a very rough, ballpark cost estimate of $1.325 million. He went over possible options this week during a work session with commissioners.

One of the most costly items are a skylight and solar tubes, at about $150,000 — but without natural lighting added, the building would be a depressing, dark hole for county employees working there, Thompson said. Sprinklers or a firewall and required additions, also ups the price, he said.

Still, at about $70 a square foot (plus additional money for such items as the fire protection and redoing the exterior), renovating the building still comes in cheaper than building something from scratch. That, Thompson said in a response to a query by County Manager Chuck Wooten, would come in at $175 to $200 a square foot.

“The question is, do we want to utilize this particular space for this particular purpose?” Wooten said. “I think this would be a good use for this particular space.”

In a similar move, Haywood County commissioners last year bought an abandoned Wal-Mart and are converting it into an office complex for the Department of Social Services and Health Department. The cost was cheaper than replacing the antiquated, crumbling facilities with a new building.

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Renting office space is costing Jackson County $40,000 annually. The rental lease involved comes up for renewal in May of next year, providing fuel to the discussion. Additionally, Wooten said, more space is needed by several of the agencies housed by the county, including the cooperative extension service (a demonstration kitchen is included in the drawings made by Thompson, per the state agency’s request, plus office space).

The federal Farm Service Agency, currently in the federal building in Bryson City but formerly housed in Jackson County, also would like to return to this county, Wooten said.

That agency would pay rent for the needed 1,610 square feet.

Another county owned building, this one vacant, is posing its own set of problems.

Commissioners were told that the rock building in Mark Watson Park is not worth saving, with Wooten explaining there “are some real issues with water drainage.” Jackson County was eyeing the building as a possible site for a new 911 emergency dispatch office, using $1.4 million available through dollars collected through 911 fees for phones.

The dispatch office is currently using the old grand jury room in the Jackson County Administration Building. About 7,000 square feet is needed, Wooten said.

One option would be to put up a metal building with an attractive façade on the same site where the old rock building currently sits. Also, at Commissioner Doug Cody’s suggestion, the county will look at whether part of the Southern Lumber building now eyed for renovation could also house 911.

Additionally, commissioners agreed to list on the county’s website three potentially commercial pieces of properties, and sell them if possible:

• 1.5 acres on West Main Street and Wilkes Cresent appraised at $185,000.

• 1.5 acres in Whittier, the Clearwood property, appraised at $39,000.

• Just less than 1.5 acres beside Sylva Plaza, the old steakhouse property, bought originally as a site for a new public library. The library was built instead alongside the historic courthouse. The property was appraised for $250,000, Wooten said, adding there has been interest from a potential buyer for the property.


Rent or own?

Jackson County could save on rent and overhead if the following offices were consildated into a single county building. The old Southern Lumber Co. is being eyed for that purpose.

• Drivers license office (already there): 994 square feet

• Veterans Services: 520 square feet

• N.C. Cooperative Extension Service: 2,799 square feet

• Soil and Water Conservation District: 2,130 square feet

• Housing: 863 square feet

• Board of Elections: 3,693 square feet

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