Approximately 100 Newton County employees - who have been crammed for years in leased or run-down office buildings across the county - can breathe a sigh of relief as construction on the county's new administration building nears completion with the first departments expected to move in this week.
Local media were given a tour of the building Friday afternoon by Newton County Chairman Aaron Varner and Project Manager Ray McFadden. While the air-conditioning was already up and running and a large portion of the building's furniture had been delivered, construction crews were still hard at work installing electrical wiring and painting in the stairwells.
"We're very pleased," Varner said of the nearly finished building. "Ray's done an excellent job of keeping us in the loop."
The total cost of the new building to the county, including fixtures and furnishings is $9 million. A Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax contributed $5 million with the remaining $4 million financed by bonds.
The new building will house nine county departments: Board of Elections, Tax Assessors, Tax/Tag, the County Extension Office, Planning and Zoning, Health and Environment, Water and Resources, Information Technology and Geographic Information Systems. Each department head will now occupy their own corner office, complete with ample window space.
The building is three stories tall with 20,000 square feet on each floor for a total of 60,000 square feet.
However only 40,000 square feet will be used right away. The rest is designated as future space and each department has room for about five years of expansion built in.
McFadden predicts it will take at least 10 years for the building to reach full capacity.
"The hard part of an office is that if you build it down to just what you need today, you get short-sited," McFadden said.
The design of the new administration building is the work of Lyman, Davison and Dooley Inc.
"We tried to maintain a similarity to the (old) courthouse," said McFadden of the building's architecture.
McFadden said the decision was made to position the building's entrance and stately columns facing the square so as to make the facility appear more inviting to the community.
"Every floor has windows so we can get as much natural light as possible," McFadden said.
Special attention was also given to making the new building as energy-efficient as possible.
"The design was totally designed around energy efficiency," McFadden said.
The choice of which air conditioner units to install played a large part in making the building energy efficient, McFadden said. Windows as strong and resistant to the elements as brick walls have been installed throughout the building to cut down the building's energy footprint. Six to eight 277-voltage fluorescent street lamps installed around the new building will also contribute to higher energy efficiency.
McFadden said that as a single purchase, each set of glass-paneled doors leading into the building were the most expensive items purchased, costing $10,000 each. However, McFadden said it was a worthwhile investment as the doors, installed in a high-traffic area, would not wear out as quickly as less-expensive doors.
In addition, McFadden said only natural materials were used in the construction of the building - stone, brick and pre-cast concrete. All of the building's furniture was purchased from Wood Office Supply.
While it is hard to gauge just how much energy the county expends housing so many departments scattered in several buildings throughout downtown Covington, McFadden said the new building was a marked improvement on the old administration building, which was not energy efficient.
Where to go
The Board of Elections, Tax Assessors Office and Tax/Tag Office will be located on the first floor. In addition to the three departments the first floor will house the building's main employee break room, a spacious training room and a large front circular entryway with high ceilings complete with receptionist desks, an elevator bank and a map of the building's departments.
The Tax/Tag Office which is currently housed at the old county administration building on Usher Street will see its office space greatly expanded from about three windows where customers can conduct their business to 14 said McFadden. Security for Tax/Tag has also been increased with motion detectors and cameras installed over each window.
"All of our tag flow will be in a secure area," McFadden said.
The second floor will house the UGA Cooperative County Extension Office of County Coordinator Ted Wynne, which will include a classroom that can be used for 4-H classes and the like.
The second floor also contains the Planning and Zoning Department. The area contains a circular reception area, a map room, copious space for file cabinets, a decent-sized conference room, two smaller conference rooms and will house approximately 20-25 county Planning and Zoning employees.
An upscale larger conference room is also located on the second floor. The room contains floor-to-ceiling windows, which give a spectacular view out onto the square and downtown Covington, making it an excellent location to bring state officials or potential developers. Varner said the room would be open for any county department to reserve for use.
The Health and Environment Department is the third county department located on the second floor, which also houses two mini-staff kitchens.
The third floor contains the county's newest department, Water and Resources, along with the Information Technology department and the Geographic Information Systems department. More than half of the third floor is set aside as future space.
Construction on a parking deck with space for 204 vehicles is also underway across the street from the new administration building on Elm Street. The county is leasing space for the parking deck from First Baptist Church. While county employees and customers will have the use of the parking deck during weekday business hours, the church will have the use of the deck during the remainder of the week. McFadden said he expected construction on the deck to be completed by the fall.
The IT Department will be the first department to move in this week and the old administration building is expected to be completely vacated by the end of July or by the beginning of August. Due to a special election for the Newton County School System, the BOE will be the last department to move in. McFadden said he expected all departments to be moved in by September.
Varner said the county was grateful to the City of Covington for agreeing to allow the closing off of Usher Street from Pace Street to Elm Street for one year to allow for construction to proceed unimpeded.
"Without it, frankly we couldn't do it," McFadden said of the street closure.
Added Varner, "We are very appreciative of the City of Covington for working so close with us."
Varner said the county is trying to arrange for Lt. Governor Casey Cagle to attend the building's dedication sometime in August or September at which time the cordoned-off section of Usher Street is expected to be re-opened.