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Officials meet with architectural firms to help plan new government center

The City-County Government Center Committee met last Thursday to hear presentations from architectural firms to begin the process of selecting one to design the new government center in downtown Thomson.

Rosser International, The Facility Group, Cooper Carry and Pieper, O'Brien & Herr each gave a 45-minute presentation describing their company, accomplishments, awards and other projects, along with how they handle business and ideas for the local project.

"Any four of the group could do us a good job. They're all proven and they've been around the state," said Tom Gunnels, the tenth judicial district administrator, who attended the meeting for Superior Court Chief Judge Roger Dunaway.

The government center is planned to house courtrooms in addition to city/county and local state offices. Space will be needed for code enforcement, tax assessors, utility offices, conference areas, meeting rooms, courtrooms, file storage, courtrooms and chambers and staff break rooms.

"A city-county building is an unusual situation in the state," Paul Docka, the designer for Rosser International, admitted during the meeting. "We have not had that combination before."

Mr. Docka pointed out that security would affect the layout of the building because citizens entering the building to pay their water bill will not need to go through the security measures of people entering the courtroom.

Discussions between the committee and the architects included a campus style layout versus a single building, traffic flow, contractors, allowing the county public works department to do a portion of the work, and the different construction delivery methods. Still in the planning stage, the center is to be built along Railroad Street on 20.6 acres that now include businesses, vacant buildings and vacant lots. The committee is in the process of reviewing appraisals to purchase the properties.

The meeting took place at Thomson City Hall with all committee members present, including Committee Chairman and County Commissioner Rev. Fred Favors, Forward McDuffie Director Mike Carrington, City Administrator Don Powers, former Thomson Mayor Bob Knox, Thomson Mayor Ken Usry, County and City Planning and Zoning Director Fred Guerrant, McDuffie County Public Works Director Chris Pelly, County Manager Don Norton, County Commissioner Sammie Wilson and Mr. Gunnels.

"We had two owners of the firms show up to give a presentation, so obviously they think it's an important project," Mr. Knox said after the presentations.

Those two owners were Jerry Cooper of Cooper Carry and Jeffrey Pieper of Pieper, O'Brien and Herr.

"We've studied your program, and we've driven around your city," Mr. Cooper said. "We don't have as great an understanding about it as you, but we've looked at it through different eyes."Mr. Cooper said his firm also would include plans to use the current county and city buildings and courthouse when they become empty. All of the firms mentioned designing their plan to encourage businesses and walking traffic downtown.

Doug Shaw, the director of architecture for Rosser International, noted that Thomson is built around the Depot instead of on a grid system, as most cities.

"And y'all really have a nice variety of architecture here," he said.

No stranger to the area, Mr. Shaw said he was with the firm that built the new McDuffie County Jail during it's planning and construction before he worked for Rosser. Also familiar to McDuffie County is The Facilities Group, who worked on the new Sweetwater Gym.

"So you've got some idea whether or not we are telling you the truth when we promise something," quipped Senior Project Manager Steve Defelippi.

The committee decided to ask all four architectural firms to submit a cost proposal using the construction manager at risk approach.

They will meet again on Jan. 31 to make a decision.

Web posted on Thursday, January 24, 2008

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