NEW CUMBERLAND - Hancock County commissioners say they want to spend $7 million on capital improvements for county-owned buildings in the next couple of years.
Revisiting a theme they've been discussing all year, commissioners on Thursday said they're prepared to move forward with multiple projects they say will improve courthouse security, increase handicapped accessibility and enhance working conditions for several county departments.
Construction of a new secure entrance for the Hancock County Courthouse, complete with a walk-through metal detector and an X-ray machine, is expected to begin Nov. 18 and should be completed by the end of the year, Commissioner Dan Greathouse said.
Commissioners hope to begin construction on a new Hancock County Magistrate Court in the first quarter of 2014, to be followed sometime later in the spring with a groundbreaking for a new 911 Dispatch Center/Office of Emergency Management building, Greathouse said.
"It's an ambitious project that will take two or three years, but, in the end, we will have things set up for the next 20 to 30 years," Greathouse said.
Laying out the plan for commissioners on Thursday was Robert Vidas, executive director of the county's office of technology and communications. Vidas said the county facilities plan involves "revitalizing existing buildings, repurposing old buildings, constructing new buildings and planning for the future."
Commissioners also are preparing to:
Upgrade the heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems of the old section of the courthouse.
Install a second elevator to provide better access to offices in the old courthouse.
Replace the roof and coping on the 1968 courthouse annex.
Find a new home for the Hancock County Health Department.
Renovate the courthouse restrooms for greater handicapped accessibility.
Make PC and accounting system improvements.
Vidas said the facilities plan was developed after considering the need for better security, the problem of aging equipment and infrastructure and the recommendations of a 2012 courthouse assessment.
"It's a great day for Hancock County - and for the future of Hancock County," Commissioner Mike Swartzmiller said.
Although in "great shape" financially now, Hancock County faces a "declining revenue stream" in the future from anticipated declining gaming proceeds, Swartzmiller said.
"We just thought the time was right to invest in Hancock County. We might not be able to afford it in a few years," he said.
Greathouse said the $7 million will come from county savings and state and federal grants and that the county still has $3 million in a rainy-day fund.
"We believe we are spending the dollars the best way we can to develop the best facilities we can," Commissioner Jeff Davis said.
The first project, the new courthouse entrance, will be paid for with the help of a $120,000 grant from the U.S. Justice Department's Office of Community-Oriented Policing Services, Vidas said. The C.O.P.S. grant will help cover the cost of the walk-through metal detector, the X-ray machine, hand-held scanners, and video cameras.
The construction bid was awarded in September to Trushel Construction of Weirton in the amount of $106,800. The project entails building a new vestibule, reconfiguring the interior partitions and doorways and modifying plumbing, mechanical and electrical systems.
Commissioners expect to turn their attention to a new home for the Hancock County Magistrate Court early next year. The court, currently located on South Court Street, will move to the old New Cumberland Dollar General store on North Chester Street.
Commissioners bought the building for $232,000 in February and want to adapt the retail space for reuse as a judicial complex. Browne Group Architects of Columbus was awarded the design bid in the amount of $38,000. Officials with the firm are expected to meet with county officials to discuss the project on Wednesday, Vidas said.
Partial funding for the courthouse project will come from the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, Vidas said. On Thursday, commissioners authorized Vidas to solicit bids for the construction of catch basins and a parking lot on county-owned land adjacent to the Dollar General building.
In the spring, commissioners hope to break ground on a new home for the 911 Center and OEM, both of which currently occupy cramped quarters in the courthouse. The new headquarters are to be built on county-owned property at state Route 2 and Rockyside Road.
The project, originally envisioned as a joint 911/OEM-health department complex, was delayed in the spring when construction bids came in significantly over-budget. Commissioners hoped to keep the project cost at or below $5 million, including the $2 million technology package, but when bids were opened in June, the lowest bid was $4.8 million, not including the technology add-on.
Commissioners rejected all six bids and sent the project back to the architect, L.R. Kimball of Ebensburg, Pa., for a review. The project was rebid with the health department component removed. County officials currently are reviewing nine bid packages, Vidas said.
Greathouse said the county has a $500,000 grant from FirstEnergy that will be used for the new 911/OEM complex.
Once the 911 Center moves, commissioners will be able to proceed with the courthouse elevator project.
Bids for the HVAC upgrade for the old courthouse are due today.
Commissioners have applied for a $100,000 grant from the West Virginia Courthouse Facilities Improvement Authority to help pay for a new roof and coping for the courthouse annex. The roof is original to the 1968 building, Vidas said.