STATE ROAD — Some county offices, including the board room used for county commissioners, could end up being relocated to the historic courthouse in Dobson.
In late February, Facilities Manager Don Mitchell presented a proposed new floor plan to the Surry County Board of Commissioners at its annual planning retreat in State Road.
Phase one of a project to renovate the century-old courthouse recently concluded. That phase, according to Mitchell, focused on the exterior of the building. Granite was replaced as entrances were rebuilt, and the building got a new roof which should last 30 years.
The first phase of the project to renovate the 47,744 square feet building cost taxpayers about $500,000, according to Mitchell.
Mitchell told commissioners it was time to figure out what to do inside the building. He presented a plan in which the county would renovate the second floor of the building for use by the county board and administration. It would also include a facelift for the basement, which is where those who are handicapped would have to enter the building.
The first floor of the courthouse is used by the district attorney’s office. The basement houses the magistrate, and the second floor has played host to juvenile justice offices.
Mitchell noted the third floor once housed the county’s main courtroom, a room which was impressive. When the 1974 renovation to the 1916 building took place, the courtroom was filled with heating and air conditioning components.
If commissioners were to move forward with the plan Mitchell presented, the third floor would continue to be used primarily for storage, said Mitchell.
The plan before commissioners would convert the second floor of the building for their own use. One of two smaller courtrooms on the second floor would be converted into a board room, and the remaining space would become offices for county staff such as the county manager, finance officer and facilities manager.
Mitchell told commissioners the project would likely cost about $1.5 million.
“We passed the point of tearing it down when we put a new roof on it,” said Commissioner Buck Golding.
“If we are spending, we have to ask, ‘What can we put over there?’” said County Manager Chris Knopf. “The easiest would be our administrative functions.”
County officials currently take up space in the government center that also houses the Surry County Health and Nutrition Center and the Department of Social Services.
Knopf said the other agencies could use the space that would be left by moving the county administration out.
“An old building like that is a money pit, but can we use the money pit?” asked Golding.
Commissioner Van Tucker noted the county didn’t set out on a crusade to build a new meeting place for commissioners. A number of years ago, county commissioners made the commitment to renovate the courthouse. Now a use must be determined. Housing the board and county administration seems the most appropriate use.
Mitchell said regardless of whether commissioners decide to push forward with the project, the board will have to allocate about $300,000 for a new elevator and $100,000 for a new fire alarm system in the building. If those aren’t replaced the building fails to meet applicable building code and can no longer be used.
Contracted architect Tony Chilton said the estimated costs include about $35,000 for heating and air conditioning work and $25,000 to $30,000 for electrical work. The meeting room for commissioners could cost about $200,000, and renovating the remaining floor space into offices would coast about $850,000 to $900,000.
In a subsequent interview, Mitchell said the second floor at the former courthouse building is 11,896 square feet. Costs for building new are about $170 to $180 per square foot, meaning the cost of such a new structure of similar size could top $2 million. The cost to renovate is about $75 per square foot.
“We need to work on a timeline,” said board Chair Eddie Harris. “What do we decide and when?”
To that Golding noted he would like to see a feasibility study completed regarding the proposed new use for the property, and the county will also have to address parking needs should it opt to move the functions of the board and county administration to the building.
“I’m a little tossed there,” said Commissioner Larry Johnson, noting the county has looked at purchasing a former retail property adjacent to the government center for a similar cost.
“We could spend $1.5 million here for one floor,” said Johnson. “It’s the same cost for an entire property.”
“We’ve already made the commitment to restore it (the courthouse),” answered Tucker. “Given the two choices, I’d lean toward moving to the historic courthouse.”
“I’d like to see a little more cost study, but I’d tentatively commit to this avenue.”
Mitchell and Chilton will return to commissioners with a “more robust study” as a result of the conversation at the retreat.
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.