County commissioners consider building options

OKEECHOBEE — Renovation, additions or replacement of some county buildings was a topic of discussion at the April 25 meeting of the Okeechobee County Commission.

C. Scott Driver pavilion

The commissioners approved a plan to build an addition to the C. Scott Driver pavilion for a warming kitchen.

Facilities Director Donnie Oden said they did not want to take space away from the 3,600 sq. ft. enclosed area.

When some of the bigger bass tournaments have a meeting down there, they fill up that room, he said.

The proposed project consists of the addition of a warming kitchen addition to the existing metal building, finishing the interior walls of the existing metal building with metal studs and gypsum board up to a height of 12 feet and modifying the electrical to accommodate the changes.

The money for the project is already in the budget.

Commissioner Kelly Owens asked if they could look at the wiring in the open air area to see if they could add some fans there.

“In the open air area where people gather for weigh-ins on really hot days, I have seen people get overheated,” she said.

Commissioner Owens said she realized they have already gone out for bids so that it could not be part of the current project. She asked that they consider adding overhead fans in the future.

The commissioners voted to accept the low bid of $82,137.60 from Abney Building & Consulting, Inc. for the project.

Airport terminal

The board also awarded a bid for expansion of the county building that houses the Landing Strip Cafe at the Okeechobee County Airport to Platinum Performance Group, Inc. in the amount of $217,900.

According to the staff report, the proposed project consists of providing additional restaurant storage and food prep area, including improvements to the existing restaurant area by replacing and reconfiguring the storefront windows. The new configuration will transform the patio area into air-conditioned space, therefore allowing the area to be used more often through the year for the patrons.

With the changes, the restaurant traffic will come and go through the terminal building, which will improve security.

“Nobody will be walking out of the restaurant directly onto the tarmac,” said Mr. Oden.

County jail

Commissioners debated whether to rehabilitate or replace the jail and how to find the funding for the massive project.

Mr. Oden said jail renovation and expansion were considered in 2008. Using the information on that study, updated with current costs, the project was estimated at $28 million.

“We know that is going to be a big chunk to bite off,” said Mr. Oden.

The original plan included administrative space and the jail pods, said Commission Chairman Terry Burroughs. He suggested they start with building an additional jail pod, and then transfer prisoners into that pod, leaving a pod open for renovation.

“We can focus on the pods first, and then figure out what we want to do with the rest of the issues,” he suggested.

“It’s going to be a phased project because we can’t shut down,” said Sheriff Noel Stephen.

“We have to hold what we have and build around what we have,” he said, adding that the regional jail concept is no longer an option due to increase in federal prisoners in the Glades County jail.

Commissioner David Hazellief said he is concerned about the cost of rehabilitating the 30-year-old building because it is a jail.

“I would like to see the cost of building a new jail,” he said.

Commission Chairman Terry Burroughs said they could find out how much the new Highlands County jail cost.

“Much as I dislike bond issues, I think that is something we need to look at,” he said.

“I am concerned about the safety of the employees,” said Kelly Owens. She said when they toured the jail, she was concerned about the outdated security system.

The sheriff said the new pod would need a different system of mechanics, and the security system in the other areas would also have to be upgraded.

“In this particular case, I think the residents would understand some things you have to bond,” said Commissioner Bryant Culpepper.

The sheriff said he believes rehabilitation of the building will cost less than building a new facility.

The sheriff said the jail has 232 beds, and on average they have 280 inmates.

He said they have 24 beds in the section for females, but on average they have 40 female inmates.

“We had to take females and put them in a section of a pod in a male dorm,” he said.

The sheriff said on the administration side the priority for an upgrade would be the evidence room.

“We’re just busting out the seams to maintain the integrity and level of that stuff,” he said.

The sheriff said there is not enough room to build a new jail on the current site.

“It would take more to manage two different facilities than one,” he said, explaining that he would like to keep the sheriff’s office and the county jail under the same roof.

County staff was asked to gather more information on the cost of building a new jail vs. renovating the current jail.

Alderman Building

The commissioners also considered the Alderman building, which houses the Property Appraiser’s Office and the Tax Collector’s Office.

The building was originally built as a jail in 1964, said Mr. Oden. He said there are a lot of hairline cracks in the building and a lot of larger cracks.

“Part of our pressure cleaning got into the stairwell,” he said.

The Tax Collector’s office is low on space, he added. That office is required to maintain some records as documents so they can’t digitize and shed the old documents.

“Maybe what we should take a look at is laying out an overall plan to renovate or replace buildings rather than just patching things,” said Chairman Burroughs.

“When you try to take an old building like that, sometimes you just pour a lot of money into it and five years later you’re pouring more money into it,” said Commissioner Culpepper.

Fire Station 2

“I would like to see us do the fire station and the road department buildings at a reasonable cost,” said Commissioner David Hazellief.

“Let’s get some of those projects started that we already have the funding in there and approved,” he said.

County Fire/Rescue Chief Ralph Franklin said Fire Station 2 in Treasure Island needs renovation.

He said his staff would also like the station to be expanded to add more dormitory rooms and storage. Currently there are four fire/rescue personnel assigned there. In the future, they hope to add staff, he said.

Commissioner Hazellief said he supports renovation, but instead of expanding station 2, they should put money into building more fire stations.
“Having six people there, that’s a dream,” he said. “We’re going to need four people at another station before we will need more people there.”

“It’s all about response times,” said Commissioner Culpepper, a retired firefighter.

“I would prefer to see additional stations placed strategically throughout the county,” he said. “That lowers response time.”

He also suggested housing firefighters in dorms instead of individual rooms.

“That’s just part of fire service; you share that common space,” he said.

“Based on the information I have right now, I think renovation is definitely necessary,” said Commissioner Owens.

Chief Franklin said during the renovation, they will have to put a modular unit on the property to house the staff or else relocate them to another station.

“I definitely want to see a modular unit there,” said Commissioner Hazellief.

“They need to be on site along with their equipment.”

The commissioners agreed that a new public works building is needed, but disagreed on the size.

“The mobile home has got to go,” said Commissioner Hazellief.

He said the concrete building can be renovated.

Public works

Chairman Burroughs suggested budgeting a total of $3 million of capital funding for renovation of fire station 2 and new buildings for the Public Works/Road Department and Property Appraiser/Tax Collector offices.

He suggested allocating $2.3 million to replace the Alderman Building, $600,000 for public works/road department and $100,000 for renovation of fire station 2.

Commissioner Hazellief said he agrees with the priorities but disagrees with the plan for a 3,750 sq. ft. building for road department.

“Let’s go with a reasonable size like 2,000 sq. ft.,” he said.

“We’ve gone from 6,100 sq. ft. to 3,750 sq. ft,” said Mr. Oden. “I really can’t tell you what it is going to need.”

“We know it needs to be a reasonable size and a reasonable price. Cut it down to 2,500 sq. ft. and I’ll support it,” said Commissioner Hazellief.

County staff was asked to bring back estimates for the building at 3,550 sq. ft. and 2,500 sq. ft.

Publisher/Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at kelsken@newszap.com

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