Just two days after the one-year anniversary of County Bank's demise, the company's former headquarters has been bought and could soon become the new home to Merced County government offices.
The county's Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday morning to buy the 28,000-square-foot building for $6.9 million. A final closing date is tentatively set for Feb. 25. The building's purchase will be paid for with funds from a state tobacco lawsuit settlement, which is set aside specifically for construction projects.
The County Bank building could be occupied by county employees by 2011, said Richard Schwarz, assistant public works director.
A consultant hired by the county will look at open space in several government-owned buildings -- including the County Bank property -- and recommend how departments could be shuffled from rented space to save money.
Other buildings included in the so-called "Reuse Study" include the empty former environmental health department building at 777 W. 22nd St., the administration buildings at M and 22nd streets and the Mercy Medical Center hospital complex that will become vacant in June.
The consultant, Williams and Paddon Architects, was hired by the board last June to analyze the hospital space. The supervisors upped the architect's contract Tuesday by $70,000 to include an analysis of the additional buildings.
Williams and Paddon will look at how best to use some 300,000 square feet of space for a total cost of $370,000.
Leaders said the proposed reorganization could end up saving the county a substantial amount of money, despite the initial price tag. The county spends $2.5 million each year on rental properties throughout the county (some of which are outside Merced and would probably not be moved to the downtown area).
Departments that rent some or all their space include probation, work force investment, child support, mental health, the human services agency and the district attorney's office. "There's a number of office functions that are leasing or renting around town," Schwarz said. "Our goal is to ultimately consolidate all of county office functions in county-owned buildings instead of leased or rented buildings."
The savings are even higher because state funds covered the cost for buying the County Bank building. Plus rental checks will stop being paid by the county's general fund.
The purchase could also put off a planned $17.7 million downtown government center the county proposed in 2006. That building was slated to cover between 80,000 and 130,000 square feet. The hospital, County Bank and environmental health buildings add up to 214,500 square feet.
"The focus right now would be on evaluating what we have here and how we can best use that space to meet the needs of our departments now and in the near future, without considering construction in the near term," county spokeswoman Katie Albertson said. "We're making a significant investment into downtown Merced. County employees who will eventually work downtown will be in a position to support our downtown businesses."
Reporter Danielle E. Gaines can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.