POSSIBLE COURTHOUSE RELOCATION PHOTO

The Macon County Commission is exploring the purchase of the building located at 320 Highway 52 Bypass West in Lafayette in order to potentially relocate the Macon County Courthouse there.

There was lengthy discussion at the Macon County Commission meeting on April 5 about relocating the Macon County Courthouse to where Rite Aid was formerly located.

The courthouse has long been located on the Lafayette city square, but the deteriorating condition of the facility will result in either significant renovations or a move to another facility.

“We were bidding out the courthouse (for renovation estimates), and we had one bidder,” Macon County Mayor Steve Jones said. “But they didn’t put a bid on it by the deadline. So, we’re rebidding it and redoing some things on that bid.

“It was bid out that you would have to have an architect to design … to go through and design it. Instead, we have come back and taken that requirement out. You bid on it per the specs on it. We’ll see what happens. We have a couple of others who are interested now.”

In addition to the fact that the county departments that are housed in the courthouse are running out of storage space, the building has some electrical issues that must be looked at, and moisture has gotten inside the walls, which has caused some leaking issues.

Some of the walls on the interior of the building are coming apart, in addition to some issues on the exterior walls as well.

“I hope we get good bids on it,” Jones said. “You can look and see what has to be done. That’s going to tell you what’s going how much you’re going to have to spend or not spend on this courthouse.

“We did do an asbestos check on the tile, all the floors. They said, most of the time, the adhesive is what has the asbestos in it, not the actual tile. But, these were so old, they had asbetos in both tile and (adhesive). If you move anything, if you tear up any of the floor … you have to get with the state and get approval. It runs into a lot. You can clean the floor and lay on top of it and not take anything up, but if you start breaking up any of the floor … And of course, all the walls have the lead paint on all the exterior walls.”

Jones also mentioned a potential logistical issue if the commissioners were to choose to renovate the current courthouse.

“The big problem I see is how are we going to work in here when you’re working on all the interior of the building,” Jones said.

The former Rite Aid building is located at 320 Highway 52 Bypass West, at the corner of the Highway 52 Bypass and Highway 10. It consists of 10,822 square feet and has 55 parking spaces, with the county courthouse currently housing 25 daily employees.

“I didn’t think about the building being big enough, but it would work pretty good,” Jones said.

Many of the county commissioners toured the facility late last month.

“About 10 of you went up and looked at the RiteAid building,” Jones said. “Most of you have seen that, or 10 or 12 of you have seen that. There’s enough room there to put everything in the courthouse if that’s what you all are wanting to do.

“Just to let you know … this is a joint thing between all the commissioners and all the elected officials in looking at buying Rite Aid and moving offices out there.”

Commissioner Jeff Hughes asked if the department heads were aware of the situation.

“They’re actually excited about it,” Jones said.

The Rite Aid building has a base price of $1.6 million, but Jones has been given an indication by the relator that that price could potentially be negotiated.

“The realtor has said that he thinks we can buy it cheaper than that if that’s what you want to do,” Jones said. “It’s one of those things that would be unpopular in the beginning, but once we start using it, I think they (the public) would see that it’s the right decision. You have a historic spot that people are working in here, and a lot of people question what you’re doing. But it’s your decision on what you want to do.”

Macon County will receive $4.7 million in COVID-19 relief funding from the recently-enacted American Rescue Plan of 2021.

However, it is unknown what those funds can be used on at this point, though it’s possible they could be utilize on the purchase of the Rite Aid building.

“I’m not sure right now if you can use any of the $4.7 million,” Jones said. “If you can use that, then that would be what you would want to do … because it’s always taxpayers dollars, but that is not Macon County taxpayers dollars. Those are federal dollars that everyone is getting out of this $1.9 trillion (the full amount of the American Rescue Plan of 2021 stimulus package) that is coming in.

“We would have the funds there to do that, but you’ve got a lot of things to do. It seems like everybody starts deciding that they want something out of that funding.”

It has been mentioned that the current courthouse could be used a storage facility for the county offices that are in the courthouse — the mayor’s office, county clerk’s office, property assessor’s office, register of deeds office and trustee’s office.

“This county is getting bigger and bigger,” commissioner Barry King said. “That will give them more room to work in it and storage.”

Jones added, “It is just as limited on storage probably as this building is. When we talked about it, one of the things that has to happen is ... everybody has to have storage for old records. My recommendation on that is ... if you did do something like this is to take this courthouse and let the departments down here, let them use that for their storage. Keep it a historical building. You can dry it up. You don’t have to do as much fancy work in it. … (county clerk) Connie (Blackwell’s) office is the one that has to have the most work done. All of the other’s is just repairing walls. Her’s has to be totally remodeled to get what she’s wanting to do, and then, she really doesn’t have the space really to do it. She’s excited to know about this, because she would have a drive-thru.”

Regardless of whether the courthouse relocates, there will still need to be some work done to current courthouse.

“The building has to be dried no matter what you do,” Jones said. “We’re going to have to do some work on the building. You don’t want to damage this building. You want to take care of it.

“It’s the ideal situation for each of the departments to have their storage.”

The commissioners voted to send an item on to the county commission meeting on Monday that would allow Jones to pursue negotiations in regard to purchasing the former Rite Aid building.

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