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Unanimous vote

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Council approves new building

By Chris Sardelli

csardelli@thelancasternews.com 

As the glass front doors parted in front of him, Keith Tunnell stepped inside the sunlit lobby of 1033 W. Meeting St. and smiled. 

Looking around at the spacious building, complete with offices and a conference room, Tunnell perused the Lancaster County Economic Development Corp.’s new home. 

Only hours before Lancaster County Council voted unanimously to approve purchasing the former medical office, Tunnell joined several county officials for a tour of the building. It was recently chosen by a three-member council committee, following a months-long search, as the best choice to house the LCEDC.  

As LCEDC president, Tunnell has been holding out hope for a new office for years, first forced to move from their leaking offices along Gay Street and later relocated to the now-defunct Agribusiness Development Center along Charlotte Highway (U.S. 521).

Last fall, County Council formed a relocation committee, made up of Councilmen Bob Bundy, Brian Carnes and Jack Estridge, to finally find the organization a home. 

After whittling down a list of 16 potential sites, comparing cost benefits, and examining each building’s pros and cons, the committee settled on the complex earlier this month. 

Pushing the site to the top of the committee’s list was the realization the building could be used to house both the LCEDC and the county’s Veterans Affairs office. 

“I’m ecstatic. It’s the perfect space for us and an even better space for the VA. Where they’re sitting now is not where it should be,” Tunnell said Monday. 

“They’ll have their privacy and will be able to serve veterans well and we’ll be able to serve our clients for 20 years.”

Strolling down each hallway, Tunnell points out several locations where walls will be built to separate the two groups. 

“To finally have a home will be a good thing and a place to bring our clients to. Moving around was not a good thing, so I’m happy to finally find a home,” he said. “The search committee did a good job and I was happy with how the process went. Now no one can say it wasn’t perfectly vetted.”

If all goes according to plan, Tunnell hopes to move in by August.

The move will, in turn, create an office shuffle, with the county’s Human Resources department moving into the former VA office inside the County Administration building, and a proposed new county attorney moving into HR’s two-office suite.

“You’re knocking out four needs with four departments with one purchase. The assessed value of the building is $827,000, and it will cost the county $550,000, so we got a deal, plus it’s a modern, nice, professional building,” Tunnell said. 

Peering up at a ceiling light, Carnes seemed pleased with his committee’s final choice. 

“I think it’s great. We went through a very detailed process. I applaud Bob’s leadership,” Carnes said. “If you look at the list of buildings we considered, this actually comes out a little cheaper than the other buildings.”

Bundy, who chaired the search committee, said the final stages of the process included creating a comparison grid with information from all the sites.

“One piece of information we looked at was how soon we could move in. This was the closest to move-in ready that we had and that was a huge plus,” Bundy said. 

He said more county decisions should be made following the same process. 

“I liked the exchange of ideas as we went along. I think it’s a huge plus to not be under pressure to hurry as we went through it,” Bundy said. “We had a target date, but there was still enough time, as opposed to throwing some new idea out in a council meeting.”

The final vote

A few hours after the tour, during council’s Monday night meeting, council members briefly discussed the committee’s recommendation before putting it to a final vote. 

Reading a report to council, Bundy said everything came together once they made the decision to choose a multi-purpose building. 

“We realized the only way this will work is to pool the needs of the county as a whole. And this fits the needs of economic development, but also the needs of the VA,” Bundy said. 

The final cost to the county, he said, will be about $650,000, which includes the purchase price of $550,000, and about $100,000 for upgrades to the building.

“Our goal was to go out and make sure the county money is well spent,” he said. 

Estridge said the search committee worked well.

“Patience pays off. Everybody’s gonna come out a winner,” Estridge said. 

Two council members, Larry Honeycutt and Charlene McGriff, whom had expressed concerns along the way about finding the best location, were both pleased with the decision. 

“I am so satisfied. This has been a prolonged discussion. We delayed it and delayed it and delayed it, but it was for a reason,” McGriff said. “But after I saw the building, I was 100 percent OK with it. It’s a nice facility. It suits economic development, it looks good and professional. I give that committee an A+.”

Honeycutt agreed.

“It’s gonna suit our needs for many, many years,” Honeycutt said. “It’s a good fit for us.”

Bundy then crafted a motion to approve purchasing the building and upgrades for no more than $650,000, first using available funds leftover from the Lancaster Air-Rail Park bonds and the remainder from the county’s fund balance. 

With their hands raised, Council then unanimously approved purchasing the building. 

Once its properly divided, the building will offer separate entrances for the LCEDC and the VA. 

The LCEDC’s lobby includes a large welcome desk, with waiting areas to the left and right, and there will also be a large conference room and space for interns. 

The VA’s portion of the building will feature several offices, formerly doctor’s exam rooms, as well as a large, dedicated file room, and their own waiting areas. As part of the upfit, a new handicap-accessible ramp will be built from the VA’s front entrance. 

 

Contact reporter Chris Sardelli at (803) 416-8416