Cost sought for clerk, archives solutions

Nov. 28—The Cumberland County building and grounds committee wants to know how much it could cost the county to move the clerk's office, renovate the Cumberland County Courthouse, and renovate or build a new archives facility.

"It's hard to decide when you don't have price tags," said Mark Baldwin, 7th District commissioner, during the Nov. 22 meeting of the committee. "Even if we had a rough estimate, we need something."

The discussion comes after a structural issue at the courthouse forced the relocation of the clerk's office to a former bank building owned by the county. The facility was in the process of being renovated to house the county's archives.

The bank offered the clerk more space with better parking and better accessibility than the downtown courthouse. It also allowed for better coordination between the different departments of the office, Cumberland County Clerk Jule Bryson told the committee last month, and gave his staff space for a break room — something they've never had.

The commission agreed to pause construction activities at the former bank building at 1760 Hwy. 127 S. until a decision could be made about permanently moving the clerk's office, with a deadline of Jan. 31, 2023.

Potential options include:

—Move the clerk's office to the bank building, rebuilding the drive-thru at the bank, and then renovate the current archives using the 2021 plan

—Keep the clerk's office at the bank building and build a new archives facility at a new location

—Move the archives to the bank building and then renovate the courthouse for the clerk's office and other county departments

The panel has no cost estimates for any of those plans. However, it has a rough idea that the first option would cost at least $2 million.

The county had a plan to renovate the archives on E. First St., with an estimated cost of $1.6 million — to be paid back over time through records fees collected to fund preservation of county records.

That plan included demolition of the back portion of the old church building, preserving the front portion. A new two-story building would include a record vault and work space on the second floor. The first floor would have storage areas for other county departments, including records that must be kept but are not considered "public" records. This includes records from the sheriff's office.

When bids came in, the project was over budget by about $230,000. The commission voted not to proceed with the renovation. Later, the bank building was purchased and a plan for adding a records vault developed.

Dewey Walker, 1st District commissioner, said he visited the archives the weekend before to learn more about the operations and needs of the facility. Before he left, he said the volunteers told him, "Please don't make us move."

Rebekah Stone, 3rd District commissioner, said Joyce Rorabaugh, the county's archivist, had wanted to stay at the current archives facility — with repairs and improvements to ensure the records were safely stored.

"I don't think she would want to stay in the same building if we weren't going to take care of that building," Stone said.

There are not current estimates for that project, though Wilson said it could cost 20% to 30% more than the 2021 bid price.

"We don't know the exact cost," Wilson said. "But you're talking $2 million."

Tom Isham, 2nd District commissioner, balked at the $2 million price.

"I just can't vote for a $2 million project at that building over there," Isham said.

He said the building looks nice inside, but it only served 14 guests in a 10-day period, he said.

"Add on to it, do some work, maybe, but $2 million is a lot of money," he said.

Stone said there are not a lot of visitors to the center, but that it is a "beehive" of work as the archivist and volunteers preserve records.

"She needs space to take care of those records," Stone said.

There are numerous records created by county offices required under law to remain accessible to the public.

Isham said he did not view the three-story portion that was slated for demolition under the original plant. There were issues related to water drainage, plumbing and windows. There were also concerns about the facility's ability to withstand storms, provide adequate fire protection for records and the humidity controls in the building.

The three-story facility is also not accessible under Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

Isham, who previously served on the commission, was not in office when the renovation project was approved. He said he has not seen the plans approved by the prior commission.

Stone said building a new archives would be more expensive than renovating the existing facility — which was something discussed during the original project development.

However, she said it may be possible to reduce the renovation costs by reducing the size of the new building. She asked the committee to approve talking with Upland Design Group, the architect on the original renovation project, to see what kind of savings could be found in that plan.

Darrell Threet, 3rd District commissioner, said he needs to know how much more expensive a new facility would be compared to renovation of the existing archives. However, he noted the commission needs to follow through with projects.

"I don't see making a commitment and backing up on it," Threet said.

Wilson said abandoning projects "does not bode well for Cumberland County."

"These people need to be paid for what they've done," Wilson said. "When we do something, we want to finish it."

Cumberland County Mayor Allen Foster agreed, noting there are costs associated with putting a project out for bid. He agreed to talk with Kim Chamberlin at Upland Design to see if there are opportunities to reduce the cost of the renovation project, which the panel approved.

However, Foster said from his perspective, many contractors and architects would likely be hesitant to provide the county estimates.

"If it takes six months to figure this out, the number is not going to be valid and everyone's going to be mad," Foster said.

Moving the clerk's office would impact other county offices, commissioners noted, and that also needs to be considered in any proposal, commissioners said.

"We're finding out about the clerk's office struggling — we didn't know that," said Deborah Holbrook, 8th District commissioner. "We need an advanced understanding of what people need.

"I want Jule [Bryson, county clerk] to have what he needs," Holdbrook continued. "And I want Joyce [Rorabaugh, archivist] to have what she needs. But I want Trey [Kerley, register of deeds] to have what he needs."

Threet volunteered to start work on a county maintenance plan, cataloging large maintenance projects like roof replacements.

Colleen Mall, 9th District commissioner, said without looking at all the departments impacted and all the options, the panel would be making a "knee-jerk decision."

Foster noted it would take more time to determine a renovation of the courthouse — at least until after the structural repairs are evaluated.

Stone said the panel needs to determine if county has grown to the point it needs all three buildings — the courthouse, the bank and the archives. Wilson added, "And are we going to take care of it?"

Sue York, 1st District commissioner, noted the commission has been discussing facility needs at the archives for six years.

"I hope in the next four years we can get that done," she said.

The panel will meet again Dec. 13 at 4:30 p.m.

Heather Mullinix is editor of the Crossville Chronicle. She covers schools and education in Cumberland County. She may be reached at hmullinix@crossville-chronicle.com.