County offices strapped for space despite '98 expansion

Panel presents study on N. Center St. building

Westminster

February 02, 2005|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Less than seven years after a $4.2 million expansion of the County Office Building in Westminster, space is so tight that some departments may have to relocate.

The Space Evaluation Committee delivered a preliminary report to the Carroll County commissioners yesterday, detailing its search for offices for the two additional commissioners who will join the three-member board next year and its review of several agencies' requests for more room.

"We are bursting at the seams at the County Office Building and may need some agencies to move out," said Ralph E. Green, director of the county's Department of General Services and committee chairman. "We built a nice-sized addition a few years ago, but now we are full."

In July 1998, the commissioners dedicated the 40,000- square-foot addition to the three-story building that opened in the early 1970s at 225 N. Center St. The expansion helped consolidate all county offices under one roof, said Green, who recalled nearly daily treks to the courthouse to get building permits.

On the third level, the commissioners share a floor with the offices they visit most often: county attorney, management and budget, comptroller and information and communication services. The addition also gave the board a spacious conference room and created a public meeting room on the ground floor.

Now, Green said, "there is a strong possibility someone will have to move off the third floor to another floor and that will mean somebody else has to move. We have to decide who could operate just as efficiently but independently of the County Office Building. Some agencies can do that."

The need for space extends to other county buildings. The Employment Resource Center needs room to grow in the Business & Employment Resource Center Building, across Center Street. Carroll Area Transit System, housed in a one-time truck terminal on Ralph Street, and the Sheriff's Office on Court Street also are pressed for space.

The county will unveil recommendations for a new detention center Feb. 10 in a report that will discuss size, cost and a construction timeline.

"We are taking a slow walk on this one because it will be a major financial commitment," Green said.

The transit building, which could be razed for another building, will undergo minimal renovations until a decision is reached on its future. A few agencies, including the Board of Elections, will vacate the BERC Building to make way for more adult education classrooms.

"We seem to have a real hodgepodge, a patch and fix-up approach," said Commissioner Dean L. Minnich. "There comes a point where the law of diminished return kicks in."

Minnich called for a long-term plan that would show "where we are in 2005 in terms of housing government agencies and giving people a good place to work."

The committee is working on a 20-year master plan for the county's buildings.

The push to reconfigure space in the County Office Building began last year soon after voters decided to expand the Board of Commissioners from three to five members. The building will need two more commissioner offices as well as space for their special assistants and administrative staff.

Although the committee "has not officially identified any agency's move from this building or the total space needs," the commissioners' conference room with its easy access to elevators and restrooms will probably remain intact, Green said.

"We are proceeding on the assumption that the way we operate now will continue," Green said. "We have yet to decide who best can leave the third floor for another floor and who can best leave the first floor for space outside the building."

Among the available spaces are the BERC Building and a former residence converted into offices next door, which the county purchased last year for future expansion. The former Carroll Community College annex building, less than a mile away at 300 S. Center Street, offers 30,000 square feet and the most promising possibilities for offices.

The county has gutted the building's interior and installed new heating, air-conditioning and electrical systems in preparation for the next tenants.

"The exterior is old, but the interior will be entirely new," Green said.

Several recreation offices will move into the annex building, as will the Board of Elections, possibly in time for the 2006 elections, Green said.

"What you are doing is consistent with getting the day-to-day work done, but don't overlook the vision for the future," Minnich said.

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