Space assessment done for possible new county offices

Posted: October 30, 2013

The Winchester Star

WINCHESTER — Frederick County’s Public Works Committee will have just over a month to review a needs assessment related to a proposed county government and school administration building.

The committee received the Frederick County Space Planning Needs Assessment — completed by Blacksburg-based OWPR Inc. — at its Tuesday meeting.

The document projects a need for 164,128 square feet to accommodate projected staff increases in the county government and school administration. It included the number of square feet allocated to each department in the county government and the school division, and the projected space needs for the departments over the next 10 years.

The county government received an unsolicited proposal from Frederick County Center LLC in late March to provide financing for the design and construction of an office building outside the city.

The proposal, submitted under the state’s Public-Private Education Facilities and Infrastructure Act of 2002 (PPEA), also states that the organization would purchase the county’s current office building and provide land for the new offices between Interstate 81 and Front Royal Pike (U.S. 522), across from Airport Road.

Nineteen county departments occupy 86,820 square feet in the government’s offices at 107 N. Kent St., while the school administration has 35,000 square feet, mostly at its building on Amherst Street, and the county government and school system share 7,000 square feet, according to the assessment.

Projected needs — which  OWPR calculated after gathering information from department heads — are 101,207 square feet for the county government, 50,015 square feet for school departments and 12,906 square feet for space shared by the two entities.

The current and projected square footage data are in gross amounts, or the area that includes spaces for “walls, corridors, stairs, mechanical rooms, common areas, etc.,” according to the assessment.

Gene Fisher, Public Works Committee chairman, said after the meeting that the projected space needs in the assessment are close to those in the proposal by Frederick County Center LLC.

No action was taken at the meeting; committee members will now review the assessment.

The majority of the county’s departments are in the 100,000-square-foot building on Kent.

More than 200 employees work there.

In 1994, county officials came close to moving the government offices out of Winchester, but struck an agreement with city leaders that kept the offices downtown and allowed for an expanded facility on Kent.

The terms of that agreement expired on Jan. 1, 2006.

The county government still owes $1.3 million on its current administration building. It is scheduled to make a $705,000 payment in December and pay the remaining balance in December 2014, according to information previously provided by county Finance Director Cheryl Shiffler.

The county Board of Supervisors in August approved an amendment to the county’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) — a component of its 2030 Comprehensive Plan — to include “a new county/School Board administration building, to be located generally in the county’s urban development area.”

The school division’s administration moved into its current building — at 1415 Amherst St. — in 1983.

The School Board voted in January 2011 to spend $380,268 to renovate the facility and the project was completed later that year, according to Steve Edwards, the school system’s coordinator of policy, records management and communications.

The school administration building contains 31,688 square feet.

The county government approached the division to determine the School Board’s interest in working with the Board of Supervisors on a joint office if the county government accepts the PPEA proposal.

The School Board has expressed an interest in considering a partnership, according to Edwards.

After the CIP amendment, the proposal was sent to the Public Works Committee to determine if the county government should pursue the offer.

If it does, the parties will work to negotiate a comprehensive agreement and complete the deal.

A public hearing is required before the board can vote on the comprehensive agreement.

Under state law, certain information — including the cost of the project and the amount Frederick County Center LLC is offering for the current building — in the PPEA proposal can remain proprietary until either the involved parties agree to release it or a comprehensive agreement is reached.

If the parties reach a comprehensive agreement, the proposal would move to a public hearing and the remaining details would be released.

While the Public Works Committee is next scheduled to meet on Nov. 26 — the Tuesday before Thanksgiving — Fisher said it likely will meet on Dec. 3 to avoid holiday conflicts with members.

Attending the meeting in the Frederick County Administration Building were Chairman Gene E. Fisher and members Gary A. Lofton, Robert W. Wells, David Ganse and Whit L. Wagner. Member Jim Wilson arrived late.

— Contact Matt Armstrong at marmstrong@winchesterstar.com