New justice annex tops priority list in county’s space needs analysis

Macon County Sheriff Dept. photo by Vickie Carpenter

Brittney Lofthouse – Contributing Writer

While Macon County is just in the initial stages of reviewing its space needs analysis, County Commissioners did get an idea of the future infrastructure needs of county departments last week when Moseley Architects presented its report to the board. 

“I was excited to finally learn that the space needs analysis (we should officially receive the actual report next week) is coming to fruition,” said Commission Chair Jim Tate. “We received a brief overview at our Tuesday night meeting, and the results look promising.  We will take this topic up in more detail in January as we enter into our budget discussion. It will be great to have an omniscient point of view and plan for our county facilities’ current and future needs. The report will contain factual data that we can utilize and apply to an actual future game plan versus continuing to try and move forward based upon a knee jerk reaction.”

The space needs analysis is just a starting point for commissioners to begin discussing future infrastructure needs of Macon County. 

The goal of the report was to provide an orderly and objective assessment of department space needs, both current and projected over the next 20 years. To achieve this, Moseley Architects’ efforts required audits of individual facilities, numerous interviews with department personnel, a general review of existing facility standards, observation of existing business practices, and access to various reports and findings or best practices to serve the citizens of Macon County in the most efficient and safe manner.

At the start of the study, departments were asked to project staffing levels over a 20-year period. Subsequent interviews allowed the project team to compare those projections across population growth projections and operational trends in similar counties. State entities such as the court system are also subject to legislative changes mandating new personnel in the future.

County Manager Derek Roland noted that the report is a reference point for the county to begin long-term improvements to local government. 

The report looked at 26 different buildings currently owned by the county and provided recommendations for re-use, renovation, and or demolition when considering growth projects over the next 20 years. 

The report did find that in addition to needing a few new facilities, the county is also well positioned to consolidate and rework several existing properties to ensure efficient ongoing operations. The current state of county facilities includes several departments spread across multiple buildings. Consolidated facilities would allow the county to rework existing properties for ongoing use, rather than purchasing additional land. In many cases, opportunities were identified for collaboration and sharing of existing spaces to foster best use of county resources. Several of the existing facilities across the county suffer from inefficient systems, poor layouts, and insufficient accessibility. In many buildings, such issues can be addressed and allow continued operation. Others are candidates for replacement or removal. Individual building conditions were also addressed in the report.

The projects were broken down into three tiers of importance with Tier I projects being the highest priority for the county.

Moseley Architects identified a New Justice Center as the top need for Macon County. 

“The Justice Center would combine several existing departments and consolidate various offices for efficiency, consisting of a new courthouse, new detention center and Sheriff’s Office all located on the same site. The intent would be to reduce inefficiencies present in all existing facilities and to replace inadequate and unsuitable facilities. A new complex would address issues facing modern court facilities such as enhanced security, controlling prisoner movement, and enhancing the safety and efficiency of staff that the existing facility can no longer adequately provide. The new detention component is recommended to reduce risk currently posed to detention officers due to non-compliance issues and to provide enough beds for all classifications of inmates for the next 20 years. Additionally, construction of a new courthouse will allow the county to eliminate the leased space currently used for the Superior Court Judge’s Office.”

In addition to identifying what needed to be done, the report also suggested how it could be done. The project can be built in phases over the course of a few years with the new courthouse being Phase I; the New Detention Center as Phase II; and the New Sheriff’s Office being Phase III. The new courthouse is the highest priority in order to free up space in the existing courthouse for other county departments.

“It was good to hear the overview of their findings and I am looking forward to receiving the full report,” said Commissioner Karl Gillespie. “The space needs analysis along with Capital Improvement Plan will be valuable tools in identifying and prioritizing capital projects.”

Over the next several weeks, the commission will received the complete report from the architects and then review the recommendations. The space needs analysis likely won’t come into play any further until budget discussions beginning in the Spring. 

“We’ve been very aware that we have tremendous needs at the MCSO,” said Sheriff Robert Holland. “To have had an unbiased & independent group of professionals to come in and give a thorough review of Macon County’s needs as a whole and then to have the same group to make recommendations is the fiscally responsible thing to have had done.  I’m looking forward to reviewing the full document and seeing for myself just what they found to be deficiencies in our area as well as other county agencies. For the last couple of years we have spent thousands of dollars paying other counties to house many of our prisoners due to being filled to capacity.  The monies paid to other counties that could have gone towards adding an addition onto our 20 year old detention facility that we have obviously outgrown.”