Smith County purchased a building Friday on Locust Street, which officials said represents a long-term cost savings and will allow them to vacate the former Carlton Hotel (Smith County Office Building) by next summer.
The building, known as the Boots and Saddle Club, will be remodeled and expanded to house the Adult Probation Department, which is located throughout several floors of the Carlton Hotel.
Baker and commissioners said building estimate analysis of differing renovation options made the purchase a “best use and practices” decision.
The court approved the purchase unanimously.
“We're excited about this purchase and what it means for our employees,” he said. “For the community, it means we will be able to rehabilitate another downtown building, which results in savings.”
Beyond expanding the jail and ending mandatory shipment of inmates to other counties, emptying the Carlton Hotel has been the No. 1 priority for the court over the past five years. Until May 2011, the Carlton served as administrative space for the Sheriff's Office, Adult Probation, Justice of the Peace Precinct 1 and Constable Precinct 1.
More than 100 staff members from the Sheriff's Office moved into a 23,252-square-foot building on Spring Avenue after a construction-remodel of the former Roosth-Murphey building. That pay-go project cost around $2 million, or $85 a square foot, Baker said.
The court views the Carlton as a money pit and impractical for county use. Maintenance and utility costs make the building a cost prohibitive long-term option, court members said. The county reached a tentative sealed-bid sale of the Carlton to a developer in 2011 for $305,000.
Moving Adult Probation and the remaining offices from inside the Carlton will affect more than just county personnel.
More than 5,000 people are on court-ordered probation from Smith County courts, and the probation department employs 67 people. County officials have said any consideration for relocating Adult Probation would have to include not only available space but also the probationer interaction with the courts, their attorneys, law enforcement and the public.
Both of the county's considerations for relocating the office — the Crescent Laundry building on Ferguson Street, which the county already owns; and the Boots and Saddle Club — offered similar components, but commissioners said the purchase-remodel price for the club made the buy a better deal.
The Crescent Laundry is a 9,000-square-foot building that was purchased along with three other buildings on two acres for $450,000 in 2008.
The county already has refurbished one building that houses its Physical Plant Department. Construction crews and Physical Plant staff are in the process of renovating another building known as the Bingo Hall, also on Ferguson Street, which will become the new Election Department location.
The cost analysis performed by Jacobe Brothers Construction showed selective demolition, new construction, overhauling existing components, such as electrical wiring and fire protection, and renovating each building's exterior and interior would cost $1,077,538 for the Boots and Saddle Club versus $1,784,083.
The analysis showed each building would be more than 15,000 square feet and that completion of the Crescent Laundry remodel would take seven months versus four months for the Boots and Saddle Club. That equals $71.83 a square foot to finish Boots and Saddle versus $118.94 to finish the Crescent Laundry.
Grassroots America — We the People, an active local conservative watchdog group, addressed the court during 2012 budget meetings and recommended the county not make additional property purchases because of the poor economy.
In August, before the Fiscal Year 2013 budget was approved, group vice president Ernie Clark, a former Tyler city manager, applauded the county for considering reducing the property tax rate to its effective rate but made requests regarding transparent use of the county's reserve. He recommended tax money not be used to fund public-works projects, including a convention center and additional property purchases.
At the time, Clark recommended the county concentrate dollars and effort on long-term rural road plans.
Attempts to reach the group's executive director, JoAnn Fleming, were not successful by press time.
Phillips said he believes the purchase was a long-term fiscally conservative move.
“I've thought about how people might react, but it's one of those things where you can save money in the long run, and I think people just want us to be smart with their money,” he said.
He said Mrs. Fleming, as a former county commissioner, knows exiting the Carlton Hotel has been a major priority for years.
Commissioner Jeff Warr agreed. He said the purchase made fiscal and logistical sense, from the cost analysis to available parking spaces for residents and employees.
Baker said the purchase was about value, timing and the need to exit the Carlton Hotel. He said he expects the county to deliver a facility the community can be proud of, and that will meet its needs for years.