Derwin White

GAC president Derwin White updates county commissioners on progress as work on the new fire station continues, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020, in Marianna.

Jackson County commissioners learned this week, in their regular second-Tuesday meeting, that the new county fire station on Commercial Park Drive in Marianna could be ready for use soon, with final checks on the work expected just before the end of February.

Electrical, plumbing and site work was ongoing this week and next, officials were told.

That was just one of several facilities updates given the board in the morning session and in a special session immediately following it.

The special meeting was focused on options the board has in a number of pending decisions about the future of existing county properties that were damaged in Hurricane Michael. Many options will continue under discussion as the county weighs options and how they could affect dollars coming in from agencies that base their funding in part on how the county’s plans match the purpose and rules for the money; however, some decisions were made at that session.

Commissioners voted, for instance, to demolish an old building north of the county’s fleet maintenance yard that is currently being used for storage. Many years ago, it served as a fire training building but was long ago repurposed. It suffered roof damage and other problems during the storm, and the cost of repairs and code upgrades that would be necessary if it were to be put back in use would far exceed the net insurance value realized. The repairs were estimated at $84,100. The net cash value of the insurance policy came in at $16,295. Commissioners have decided to apply that money to a more cost-effective purpose, with the specific use of the insurance money not immediately decided.

The board also voted Tuesday to sell the old Jackson County Sheriff’s Office building on U.S. Highway 90 in an essentially “as is” condition, with some minor roof patching to be done before the sale, and to prepare an advertisement seeking bids for the purchase of the 27,000-square-foot structure.

The county will, as a condition of the sale, retain its right-of-way to the 400-foot communications tower located on the site. That tower will need repairs in order to be at its best in the future, and the county is hoping for federal funding to eventually move or replace it but will need access to it for now in any case.

A commercial appraiser issued an opinion that the building below it might bring in the neighborhood of $337,500, as a warehouse, based on calculating its worth at $12.50 per square foot. To repair the building and get it back in use for county purposes, the cost was estimated at $696,000 and commissioners decided to let it go.

JCSO operations were moved after the storm to a building on the Endeavor property which once served as a juvenile detention center. It has more space than the old sheriff’s office, so much so that the county sees an opportunity for its additional use as a center for certain emergency response operations in events like Hurricane Michael.

County officials realized early in that continuing storm recovery period that the existing Emergency Operations Center was not nearly big enough for the job the community faced in the aftermath of the hurricane, with dozens of entities coming in to help almost immediately after it and for a long period of time beyond it.

So now commissioners are talking about trying to have a new emergency operations center built next door to the sheriff’s office at Endeavor, so that in times of disaster the two buildings could together serve as recovery headquarters. There’s space in the JCSO, for instance, where many cots could be set up for the incoming recovery teams and many rooms where meetings could be held. There’s also a kitchen there and a shower room.

A new EOC could be situated next door and built at roughly the size of the existing EOC, county staff believes, where there would be adequate for normal emergency office operations, while JCSO could serve as a place for emergency teams to reside, meet and generally operate in the immediate post-storm response period.

The board is also considering various future uses of the existing EOC should that plan be pursued. One thought is to make it the permanent headquarters for road and bridge, a department that is already there temporarily as a result of the significant damage the storm dealt its own space.

But the county must weigh that against the possibility that such a repurposing could negatively affect the amount of money that the Federal Emergency Management Agency would provide to assist in repairing any of the damage it suffered in the storm. No decision was reached Tuesday on that, and county staff stressed that much research remains before many of these general plans for properties are made certain.

If the old road and bridge property were cleared of all buildings, county staffers said, that would leave roughly eight acres. Staff also noted in written summaries of various facilities options, that this property could then “be a viable option for an investor to develop a neighborhood subdivision.”

Another option would be to rebuild road and bridge assets on site, with the cost estimated at $1.7 million for the main structure offices and warehouse space. Another would be to move it into the space beside the sheriff’s office, should a new EOC be built.

Commissioners also discussed the possibility of co-locating public works and county maintenance offices in a space with road and bridge. The existing maintenance shop, while not damaged in the storm, does have some problems that would cost about $80,000 to fix, and there would be no money coming from FEMA to assist since its disrepair was not storm-related.

And the county’s road and bridge superintendent has also offered to cost out the purchase of a prefab steel building to house his department, telling the board he could also put the structure in place.

Commissioners said he could present some further information on that notion.

Little further discussion ensued about that potential, the co-location option, or the other potential of selling the old road and bridge site to a developer, but talks and updates on the entire matter of facilities’ futures are expected to continue well into the future as the county continues to learn more about how much money it will receive in recovery dollars and the rules that will govern its use.

The county also discussed its options concerning the small Northwest Florida Water Management building it took over from that agency some years back. The board could sell it, and use the money to help build a structure that could consolidate certain county offices. There’s an interested potential buyer for it already, staff told commissioners. Commissioners voted to offer it for sale through a bidding process.

Commissioners also addressed one non-facilities matter in the special meeting. The board voted to have the county website redesigned at an initial cost of roughly $7,600 offered by Tallahassee-based Kerigan Marketing Associates, with a continuing $150 per month maintenance cost.

That price was far below the other bids received for the service, one of those coming in at an initial cost of $17,380 with an annual upkeep cost of $3,000, and the other at $19,700 with a $3,900 annual maintenance cost.

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