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They turned on lights, checked air conditioning systems and took snapshots as they passed from room to room.
Pausing every few minutes, the small group would reconvene and compare notes before setting out to tour their next destination.
Though it sounds more like a family scouting for its new home, the group was actually Lancaster County Council’s Economic Development Office Location Committee. Its mission – to find a permanent home for the Lancaster County Economic Development Corp.
Made up of Lancaster County Councilmen Bob Bundy, Jack Estridge and Brian Carnes, and with help from County Administrator Steve Willis, the committee convened Dec. 3 to tour three potential buildings for the LCEDC.
The tour came two weeks after the committee whittled a long list of possible sites down to a short list of four locations – its current location in the now-defunct Agribusiness Development Center at 3578 Charlotte Highway (U.S. 521), the Humana building at 322 Main St., the former Founders building at the intersection of Grace Avenue and S.C. 9 Bypass, and the former Wamsutta building/temporary courthouse across the street from the Founders building.
The committee’s first stop was the former Founders building, a 4,200-square-foot office space, still packed full of cubicles and office furniture.
Joining them for the tour of the first building was Chad Catledge, owner of Perception Builders.
The group walked through several of the building’s rooms, stopping occasionally to examine its potential as an economic development office. Bundy photographed each room and feature for future reference.
“There’s not many load-bearing walls and it’s really been chopped up into offices,” Willis said, as the committee members talked about expanding some of the rooms.
Carnes and Estridge carefully looked at each room’s size.
“Jack, all these offices here could be opened up,” Carnes said, pointing to a large swath of spaces on the left side of the building.
Estridge was amazed at the many rooms filled with sectioned-off cubicles.
“There are just cubicles everywhere,” Estridge said. “Everything is just chopped up into little cubes. It looks a lot like Red Ventures. It’s like little chicken coops.”
Though the majority of the building could remain as-is, both Willis and Catledge said it was possible the structure needed a pitched roof, which could cost about $150,000.
“All other systems in this building are in good shape. It’s a good building,” Catledge said.
The group weaved its way through another office, a kitchen and a bathroom, before walking outside to see the building’s HVAC system and former drive-through lanes.
With the group nodding in approval at the building’s features, Willis told them its decision will most likely hinge on what functions the future LCEDC home should provide.
“A lot depends on where County Council wants to go. If council wants to co-locate an office area and an open location for workforce training, they could do that, too,” Willis advised the group as it headed off to its next two stops.
The group then made quick visits to both the Humana building at the corner of Main and Williams streets, as well as the former Wamsutta building.
The latter building was once used as the county’s temporary courthouse.
The fourth option on the committee’s short list, the LCEDC’s current home at the defunct Agribusiness Center, was not visited as committee members already knew its layout.
Kicking the tires
As of Tuesday, Dec. 10, Willis said the committee is still pondering its options.
“They looked around and kicked the tires, so to speak,” Willis said. “At this point, they are still smoking over some options. The county already owns one of the buildings and is getting information on the others.”
He said all four options remain in play and the committee did not see anything during its visits that knocked any option out of the running.
“The big thing that’s gonna make the decision moving forward is do they want a stand-alone building just for economic development or do they want to co-locate economic development along with something like workforce development,” Willis said. “For the two larger buildings, if you just have economic development in there, it does not make sense to have so much square footage with a small office inside. That’s the 800-pound gorilla in the room.”
Willis said the committee’s decisions will most likely be based on the building sizes.
“They’ve got two pretty large buildings and two not-so-large buildings. Now the committee has to make the determination if it will be a stand-alone or co-location type of thing. If they make their decisions based on this, it will knock two options off the table immediately. Both the Agribusiness and Wamsutta buildings are large, with more than 20,000 square feet of space, while the Humana and Founders buildings are smaller, with no more than 4,500 square feet of space each,” he said.
“Of course, it could come down to if they like the building and that could drive their other decisions, like co-location, but we don’t know yet,” he said.
No further committee meetings have been scheduled, though Willis expects the committee will most likely choose its preference sometime “after Christmas.”
“It will be early 2014 when the committee will make its decision and then make a recommendation to full council,” he said.
Contact reporter Chris Sardelli at (803) 416-8416.