Residents at forum want cost estimates on options for new Government Center

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For the second time since Monday, Columbus residents expressed support for an idea to move administrative and judicial functions at the Government Center to a new location while also favoring a judicial building on the current site.

About 33 residents who gathered at the Salvation Army Community Center Tuesday on Warm Springs Road favor moving to a new site and also building a court building at the current location, but moving an administration building elsewhere. Input from those residents, and folks at a previous public forum, will be presented to Columbus Council before architects return with cost estimates on four possible options. City officials are looking for long term solutions for the 47-year-old building that has been plagued by flooding and maintenance issues since major flood damage on June 18.

Residents considered these four options:

1. Complete demolition of wings and garage and building a new judicial center. Renovating the tower for city administration (reuse of structure only) and new parking garage.

2. Complete demolition of tower, wings and garage and building a new judicial center, new administration building and new parking garage.

3. Complete demolition of tower, wings and garage and building a new judicial center with broader footprint and fewer stories. There will be a new judicial parking garage and a new administration building on a new site to be determined by the city with on-grade parking assumed for administration building.

4. All existing functions of the current Government Center are moved to new buildings on a new site determined by the city. A new judicial center, new administration building, parking garage or site parking will be determined by site capacity and requirements.

Some residents said a government building for the people should remain in the center of the city while others prefer a building that’s more accessible without the downtown traffic. While the city is holding forums on possible options, Eddie Pritchett said he’s concerned about the cost of a new building and how will the city maintain the structure. Lack of maintenance on the $11 million facility caused part of the problems in the old building.

“We have maintenance problems we have now because there is no money in the budget to keep it properly operating,” he said. “I won’t be here 50 years from now probably. I’m not planning on going anywhere. How are we going to stop that from happening again? Poor maintenance is one of the problems we have now.”

Deputy City Manager Pam Hodge said maintaining the Government Center is a big cost but that would be lower with a more efficient building. “We should see maintenance costs lower and utility costs lower,” she said. “We spend a significant amount of money on utilities. A new facility would actually probably lower that demand on maintenance cost.”

City Manager Isaiah Hugley said the city will need about 300,000 square feet to replace the aging Government Center complex and cost estimates could top $100 -$150 million although no official figures are available yet. The Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax or SPLOST is the obvious source of funding capital projects. He noted the sales tax for the Muscogee County School District expires in June 2020 and the transportation special purpose local option sales tax ends in 2022.

“If not in 2020, then that could be the time for a SPLOST,” Hugley said. “Either of those dates would keep our total sales tax at 8 percent.“

The city collects about $35 million a year in sales tax or $350 million over 10 years. He agreed with residents that cost matters.

“We obviously need a cost for each option,” he said. “Those will go to the mayor and council and they will obviously decide on a number of things, cost being first and foremost.“

Hugley said a new building is like buying a home. “It’s one of the largest, single investments we will make in Columbus , Ga.,” he said. “It has to be done right.”

The third forum is 5:30 p.m. - 7 p.m. Monday at Faith Worship Center, 1600 Blanchard Boulevard.