Bibb County commissioners are still trying to figure out how to persuade voters to support a July sales tax vote — and how much money they should spend before the vote.
County commissioners last Tuesday spent an hour and a half talking with architects. Among the new discussions: The current courthouse’s entrance would be moved to Mulberry Street, and the county annex would get a new facade so it didn’t look out of place.
At one point, Atlanta architect Jerry Cooper asked how commissioners wanted to proceed with plans.
“Have to get the money first,” County Commissioner Elmo Richardson replied.
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“Well, we weren’t thinking, sir, that you would write a check,” Cooper said.
But the commissioners are facing a dilemma: They have to spend money to make money. In short, they say, they need to make sure the special purpose local option sales tax vote passes in July — but they’ll have to lay the groundwork with architects and other consultants that cost money the county barely has. As an example: The architects haven’t designed the interior of the new courthouse’s lobby or any of the courtrooms, which could bring more public support for the SPLOST.
Bibb Chief Administrative Officer Steve Layson said the county is compiling estimates of how much money it will spend prior to the vote, likely having it ready by the next commission meeting Feb. 2.
Commissioners have said the $183 million SPLOST must pass. The county faces a court order to provide better court facilities. Without the sales tax, the county would have to take out bonds that add millions in interest costs and would be paid for solely by county residents.
“I don’t think it’s an option,” Commissioner Lonzy Edwards said of the bonds prospect. “We’ve just got to pass the SPLOST.”
Chairman Sam Hart later said, “We can’t afford not to pass the SPLOST.”
Commissioners also are pushing away a conventional design-bid-build method in favor of a system called “construction manager at risk,” where the contractor would be liable for cost overruns. Cooper said the county could get more contractor and subcontractor work done by local firms that way.
County officials think they’d parcel out the work in three chunks. The new courthouse and a 600-car parking deck would be the largest part, but renovation work on the existing courthouse and a new Juvenile Court facility on Oglethorpe Street would be separate projects.
Bids for construction-manager-at-risk firms will go out soon. County officials would have to determine how much work the companies would do before the SPLOST vote. Some of that up-front work could find ways to cut costs overall on the project.
Commissioners worried aloud about how to balance the projects’ — and the sales tax’s — success with money being spent before the vote.
“I just hate to see us spend a lot of money in soft costs,” Edwards said.
“If the soft costs help get this thing passed, it’s worth it,” replied Commissioner Joe Allen, who said he keeps hearing that people want more information before the vote.
Other updates on the courthouse plans:
n Cooper said the IBM Building at First and Walnut streets must be removed to make way for the parking garage.
n Mulberry Street itself would be paved with pedestrian-friendly bricks. On-street parking in front of the courthouses and the Grand Opera House would be eliminated to make room for a broad sidewalk.
n People could walk directly from the parking garage into the new courthouse, along a lengthy hallway beside the Grand, and then into the building’s main entryway.
n Parts of the existing courthouse would be restored to their “original grandeur,” Macon architect Sammy Thompson said. The building’s original wide hallways were carved up over the years, and those could be reopened. The original open design of the main steps also could be fixed. The county commissioners’ meeting room — on the site of the existing two-story Courtroom A — would be large enough to accommodate big public meetings, even if the county merges with Macon, architects said.
To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.