Commissioners review county’s Facilities Master Plan and strategies for improvements

Paul Garrod -

    PAW PAW - On Tuesday, Van Buren County Commissioners, meeting in the Committee of the Whole (COW), continued discussion  on the county’s Facilities Master Plan (FMP).
    The meeting focused on options necessary for a  comprehensive development  plan that will address operational adjacencies,  safety concerns,  functional efficiencies and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements.
    Van Buren County Ad-ministrator John Faul told the COW that from his research, the FMP connects to the following broad  strategies: provide safe, functional, and efficient facilities;  prepare for long term sustainable operations; and utilize employees in an effective and productive manner.
    Faul said, “It is a continuation of ongoing efforts to improve facilities county-wide, which include the jail, the courts and the offices of elected officials and department heads.”
    In the past, the board has expressed the following goals:
    1. Enhance citizen access to county programs and services by locating uses that share a common customer base (adjacencies).
    a. Maintain jail and court connection.
    b. Friend of the Court with the courts.
    c. Examine the closing of  District Court West.
    d. Offices out of basements with no natural light.
    2. Enhance the safety of county facilities for citizens, customers and staff.
    3. Improve ADA compliance.
    4. Create a secure  location for Information Services and Central Dispatch/Emergency Operations Center.
    Faul said that although no formal polling was done, “local units of government and citizens showed a preference not to close District Court West. The  city (South Haven) was concerned about economic impacts of losing consumer traffic and the public safety costs relating to time and travel. Covert Public Safety would have the same additional  incurred costs.”
    Faul said the  county’s equalization director estimated the  value of the administration building at $1.2 million, with a conservative  value of $800,000. The District Court West building was estimated at $1 million.
    Faul  suggested four broad  options to discuss that fit into the aforementioned goals:
    1. Close and sell District Court West and the administration building and construct a new building adjacent to existing structures for a combined county complex. Faul said a rough estimate would be $35 million.
    2. Maintain both District Court West  and the Administration  Building and construct a new  building that would accommodate the move of Friend of the Court, Speciality Courts and State Probation/Parole to non-basement locations. ($27 million).
    3. Maintain District Court West, sell the administration building, and construct a  new building to accommodate the  move of Speciality Courts and State Probation/Parole to non  basement locations, as well as incorporating the Offices of the  Administration building. ($30 million).
    4. Maintain the  status quo footprint and incur capital improvement costs to improve ADA compliance. ($5 million).
    Although no formal action was taken, Faul said, “Once a consensus for one of the above options or a different option is developed, we will bring the concepts back to the board for direction, including an approximate total cost and what financing requirements would look like.”
    COW member Randy Peat said, “I’m going to stick my neck out here a little bit,” as he preferred  selling  and closing the  District  Court West building and the administration building.
    Peat said, “I just want to do it once. Do it right. Spend what we’re going to spend.”
    Faul  said there are two  different financial considerations - construction millage or Headlee Rollback.
    Peat  said, “If we did the Headlee Rollback, we’d be saving all kinds of money. The Headlee Rollback would be the way  to go.”
    COW member Paul Schincariol said, “The inexpensive thing to do is to keep both places open.”
     Following the COW meeting, meeting, in the Board of Commissioners’ (BOC) meeting, commissioners approved the purchase of four additional patrol vehicles for the Van Buren County Sheriff’s Office Bids were received from Tapper Ford, Paw Paw, and Gorno  Ford, Woodhaven, MI.
    Commissioners approved the bid from Tapper Ford, not to exceed $160,000. The vehicles  will be purchased from the county’s 2020  budget year.
    Commissioners also approved the county’s Master Plan agreement at $75 per hour,  not to exceed $3,000, with Harvey Consulting.
    The county’s Master Plan was initiated and completed by Western Michigan University’s Planning Studio class, within  the Department of Geography. In doing so, the county saved  substantial dollars utilizing  students to do the first draft of the plan, while giving students a valuable learning  experience.
    Commissioners also  approved the re-appointment  of  of Nancy Thomas (Republican) and appointment of Douglas Cultra  (Democrat) to the county Board of Canvassers. Their four-year terms will expire Nov. 1, 2023.

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