County Commission’s facilities committee meets this morning to work on the increasingly complex question of where to locate administrative offices for the school system.
In July, workers at the central office moved to the second floor of the First Tennessee Bank building in Dandridge, after testing at their 1221 Gay Street office revealed a mold problem in the building’s basement and second and third floors.
Since then, county officials have received a $500,000 estimate to address and prevent further mold issues in the Gay Street building, which was constructed in 1845 as the county jail. They have also looked at a preliminary cost/benefit analysis for a potential new county office complex, and – during the Commission budget committee meeting Monday – received a proposal from a commissioner that could utilize space in the county bus maintenance garage for central office staff.
In an 8-1 vote, budget committee asked the facilities committee to examine Commissioner David Seal’s proposal, which would use an estimated $213,000 in capital improvements funds to convert the space in the building on West Dumplin Valley Road that was previously used as a temporary shop for vocational classes during high school renovations.
First Tennessee allowed the schools to use about 7,000 square feet of office space rent-free until the end of the year. Rent cost will be $4,875 per month beginning this month.
About 2,880 square feet of space will be available in the maintenance building, but the central office needs at least 7,000 to accommodate all programs, director of Schools Dr. Charles Edmonds told budget committee members Monday.
Commissioner Russell Turner, who chairs the facilities committee, said the group needs to address the question of whether it is cost-effective to utilize the old building. Commissioner Todd Kesterson agreed that if the county is obligated to fix it, the space “might as well” be utilized. Commissioner Bob Beeler, also a member of the budget committee, voted against sending the Seal proposal to facilities, because “if there’s not enough space it’s a waste of time.”
According to estimates, mold remediation at the central office building is expected to cost $51,164. Installation of a heating and air upgrade — in a building originally built without one — is expected to cost $441,843.
The cost of a county complex, which would be built on land near the justice center, is estimated at $10,175,000. It would house all types of county offices, including school administration.
The courthouse, also constructed in 1845, is going to need $2.6 million in improvements over the coming years, according to estimates from the county director of safety and facilities. Brick repair, electrical upgrades, heating and air upgrades, and an ADA-required elevator are among the larger projects. The other downtown buildings used as county offices will need another $1.235 million in work over the next few years, the analysis estimates.
That adds up to over $4.3 million in anticipated maintenance and upgrades for county buildings in historic downtown Dandridge.
Once savings on rent of other buildings are figured in, the net cost of payments (over 30 years) on a new $109 million facility would be about $462,000 per year, or about four cents on the property tax rate, according to the analysis, provided by the county finance department.
MoldTox Testing and Remediation was asked to look into the central office situation after several employees in the school central office building experienced respiratory problems. Tests for airborne mold were negative, but swab testing on surfaces revealed the presence of a mold problem.
The Town of Dandridge Council has already said it could not afford to buy or maintain any of the downtown county buildings.
Today’s facilities committee’s meeting is at 10:30.