When Atlanta-based architect Jud Bryant was hired to study how government building space is used in Thomson and McDuffie County, officials looked to receive a comprehensive plan for a new complex that would take both governments and the courts into the next two decades and beyond.
On Friday of last week, officials got their first look at the initial draft of that plan. And by all accounts, they are pleased with the result. Mr. Bryant presented his plan for a Thomson-McDuffie County government complex at the joint city/county retreat held in Athens, Ga. last weekend.
He said the cost of the complex could be held to around $8 million if space management techniques were used in the new building and current building space was maximized.
"What's being proposed is, I think, reasonable. It's probably not the most conservative approach, but then it's not way out there in the realm of unreality," said County Manager Don Norton. "It's a plan to guide us in the future. It can be modified as we go along, and I think we can proceed from here."
The next step for both governments, according to Mr. Norton, is to pass resolutions closely mirroring the plan Mr. Bryant presented. Mr. Norton said that should be done within the next month.
The plan itself calls for some shifting of current offices once construction is complete. Juvenile court would take over the current courthouse because it is not fully handicap accessible -- a requirement for other courts. The public defender would also be housed in the current courthouse.
Once the tax offices are moved to the new building, the plan calls for the county extension office to move into the old tax offices. Public works and utilities would stay in their current locations while all other city, county and court offices would move into the new complex and share meeting space.
After the move, Thomson City Hall would, according to the plan, become a police substation. And parking at the new complex would no longer be a problem like at the current courthouse. Around 500 parking spaces are in the plan which also includes an amphitheater in a corner of the complex grounds.
"I think (Mr. Bryant's) come up with a good concept," said Thomson City Councilman Mike Carrington. "I do like the part about not duplicating efforts. ...If we've gotten to the point that we've got to have more space, let's think it out. And it sounds like he has thought it out as far as sharing space."
Mr. Carrington added that Thomson and McDuffie County jointly operate so much that being located in the same building would make for efficiency in logistics between future city administrators and county managers.
A location for the new building has not been finalized, but by law, the county courthouse must be in Thomson because it is the county seat. Mr. Bryant as well as government officials hope the new complex will fall in line with the downtown redevelopment plan, spurring economic growth.
"It's going to in effect be sort of the cornerstone of the redevelopment in that area," Mr. Norton said. "The fact is no matter where it goes, it's going to be done very nicely, and it would be a good center piece, if you will. Possibly then other redevelopment would follow that trend."
Voters approved $1.6 million in sales tax money in 2003 to fund Mr. Bryant's study and as begin the land acquisition for the complex. Construction would have to at least partly be funded by a new sales tax that would not appear on ballots until 2008.