Forty-seven percent of Columbus residents who participated in a recent survey believe the Government Center should be preserved and maintained, according to results released Monday.
Thirty-nine percent said it shouldn’t be kept, and 50 percent said they would prefer a judicial complex that’s separate from government and city services.
When asked if the building is “an important icon or symbol of Columbus, Georgia,” 49 percent said “yes”, 37 percent said “no.”
The online survey was conducted by the Mayor’s Commission on the New Government Center and Judicial Building, which has been meeting since January to study the possibility of replacing the facility on 10th Street.
On Monday, David Helmick - who sits on the 23-member commission - presented the results at a meeting held in a Government Center conference room.
He said more than 1,500 people participated in the survey, answering 24 questions. Respondents also left thousands of comments.
About 51 percent of the respondents said they visited the Government Center frequently or several times a year. Some were employees.
Nearly 50 percent had visited the center in the past five years for judicial purposes, 35 percent for city licenses, taxes and code, and 37 percent for other city administrative services or business.
About 51 percent said they were somewhat or very dissatisfied with parking, 44 percent said they were dissatisfied with the construction, design and layout of the Government Center. About 51 percent said they were somewhat dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with elevators, stairwells, restrooms, hallways.
When asked how satisfied they were with security screening at the Government Center, about 55 percent said they were very or somewhat satisfied, while only about 22 percent said they were somewhat or very dissatisfied.
That surprised some in the room who had been hearing from the Sheriff’s Office that security issues at the building are a major concern.
“This question along with many of the other questions, it really helped to read into the comments and see what the citizens were thinking when they looked at these questions and answered them,” Helmick said. “The commentators were happy with the Sheriff’s Office... But one thing they were not happy about - and really throughout the survey - people complained about the entryway and the way the entryway is set up, and they felt it’s not being used for its intended purpose,. It’s kind of like a loading dock that’s being used as a screening area, and the citizens just didn’t like it.”
He said several citizens said they wanted to use “the front door” and a larger entrance that didn’t get as bottle-necked when there’s a jury trial and people coming in for court.
When asked how satisfied they were with their sense of security and safety at the Government Center, 61 percent said they were very or somewhat satisfied, 20 percent were somewhat or very dissatisfied.
Mayor Teresa Tomlinson said looking at some comments it was clear some people didn’t want to insult the Sheriff’s Office.
“It was almost like despite the limitations they may have, the Sheriff’s Office does a really good job,” she said. “So they really didn’t answer about what we were trying to get to, which is: ‘Do you perceive these limitations that the Sheriff’s Office is dealing with?’”
Later in the meeting, Tomlinson compared the results to a second survey taken by members of the commission, which consists of local city officials, judges, ministers, business representatives, nonprofit administrators and concerned citizens. In that survey, 50 percent of commission members said the Government Center should be torn down, 35 percent said the building should be kept with only major systems and structural renovations, 15 percent said it should be kept and completely gutted for a wall-to-wall renovation. About 90 percent of commission members said government and judicial branches should be located in different buildings.
Tomlinson said there were a couple of incidents that may have skewed the results slightly and her office is looking into what impact they may have had on the results.
“It was just two things, both innocent, but it’s the kind of thing that might affect a survey,” she said. “I’m not sure it did, though, because it was almost when the survey was over.”
Tomlinson said the first occurred when Historic Columbus, which is represented on the commission, took a formal position to preserve the building. She said that was fine until the organization sent out an email to all of its members with a link to the survey telling them to vote in a particular way.
In addition to the email, Historic Columbus also sent a press release to the Ledger-Enquirer about its stance on the issue, and the story ran with a link to the survey, she said.
Tomlinson said her office printed out a copy of the results at that point so results can be analyzed for data bias. She said the results from both the public and commission surveys will be included in a report that the commission will present to Council in the fall.
She gave a hypothetical example: “... If we’ve got 150 responses after that date, and 145 of them said, ‘Don’t tear down the building, then that’s probably some data bias. And what we will do is note that. We won’t change the survey results. ... But we’ll note that there’s a 90 percent survey bias with 150 votes.”
Tomlinson said she would seek help from a statistician from CSU to help address the issue.
On Wednesday, the commission will open the building to the public, conducting tours at 5:30 p.m., 6 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Each tour will involve a 30 minute walk through of the existing building, with tour guides highlighting problems such as piping corrosion and security concerns.
To access the survey, minutes and other documents from commission meetings, go to http://bit.ly/2v1WmxK.