Athens new annex building meets county's future spatial needs
Turning a bank building into the Henderson County Courthouse Annex has made county government more efficient, met current facility needs and given room for growth for county offices in the future, County Judge Richard Sanders said.
Henderson County purchased the former Prosperity Bank building across the street from the courthouse in 2010.
The former bank building was gradually converted into the seat of several relocated county departments, freeing up space in the courthouse to better accommodate other county offices there and allowing the county to close the old tax office building.
The main thing the former bank building has done, Sanders said, is give Henderson County residents a better, safer building with available parking where they can go to conduct county business.
The audit office and county treasurer's office were moved from the courthouse upstairs in the new annex.
The tax office and county clerk's office, the two departments of county government that most people have dealings with, are side by side on the first floor of the new courthouse annex.
Coincidentally, the bank had seven work stations for tellers on the first floor and the county needed seven employee work stations where residents can pay their taxes and buy vehicle tags.
"It's more efficient to take care of business," Sanders said. He recalled seeing lines out the door of the old tax office, regardless of whether it was wet or cold, when people flocked in on Jan. 31, the last day to pay taxes without a penalty. There's room for lines and parking in back without having to cross a street to enter the building.
In setting up operations in the new annex and shuffling offices in the courthouse, Sanders said, "We were looking at trying to make county government as efficient as possible so taxpayers will get the most bang for their buck."
Sanders estimated the county is using 80 to 85 percent of the former bank building.
"We still have 15 to 20 percent of this building that we could utilize for growth in the county over a period of years," he said.
Although the bank left the building in "nice shape," Sanders said, the county painted and made repairs before moving in. The county also took advantage of the opportunity to buy an ice machine, shredding machine, desks and filing cabinets from the bank without having to pay the price of new items.
A major challenge was wiring the building for county computers and moving the computer server from the courthouse to the new annex.
Although the county did purchase an upgraded new phone system that runs off its computers, except for a few satellite offices that do not have the infrastructure for it yet.
Savings with the new phone system began immediately. "We were able to eliminate over 125 phone lines and still have plenty of service," Sanders said, also noting the county reduced the number of fax machines.
Initial savings was $200 to $300 a month, but once the equipment is paid off in 2014, the savings will run about $5,000 to $6,000 monthly and is expected to total about $632,000 throughout the life of the system, Sanders said.
County officials decided to make the bank building fit their needs without major remodeling.
"By and large, it has worked out very well," Sanders said.
A bench was built, however, in a room adjacent to the county judge's office that was turned into a courtroom and meeting room for county commissioners. Nearby is a conference room used for executive sessions, meetings and probate court.
But when a crowd is expected, a large room on the back side of the building can sit about 85 people is used for commissioners' meetings. It also can be used as a community room and since it has a kitchen close by, it can be used as a break room for county employees, Sanders said.
Work spaces in the bank "all came together really well" to meet the county's needs, Sanders said.
A bank drive-in facility is being used for specialized county storage, but will probably be torn down in the future to create more parking spaces when it's needed, the judge said. He estimated about 150 parking spaces already are available.
"It (the parking area) has really taken pressure off the downtown area. Anytime you come to the downtown area now, you can find a parking space not only around the courthouse but at businesses," Sanders said.
Moving the county clerk's office to the annex freed space on the first floor of the courthouse. That allowed the county to move the county attorney's office into space vacated by the county clerk on the first floor. The attorney's office had been scattered on three floors of the courthouse.
A small contingent of sheriff's deputies in the courthouse moved from the second floor into the basement and the district clerk's office was better organized, Sanders said. A filing system for the district clerk's office was set up on the second floor. Space for Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Randy Daniel was allotted in the basement.
The emergency management coordinator, the agriculture extension office and the indigent health care coordinator moved from the old tax office to the third floor of the courthouse, while the tax office moved to the annex.
The county closed the old tax building that housed those offices on the northwest corner of the square. Maintenance on the building continued to rise throughout the years.
The county can heat and cool the new annex for about what it cost to heat and cool the old tax office even though the annex is probably three times the size of the tax building because the newer annex is more efficient, Sanders said.
"We are interested in selling the (old tax) building," Sanders said.