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Supervisors mulling options for county bldg.

Lincoln County supervisors took their first active step towarddetermining the future use of the Courthouse Annex Monday, hiring ateam of architects to evaluate the building and makerecommendations on possible renovations to the old structure.

Natchez-based Waycaster and Associates Architects will have30-60 days to survey the approximately 60-year-old building at 304South Second St. and present supervisors with a list of renovationor new construction options for the site, which has been pegged asthe future home for the growing Lincoln County Tax Assessor’sOffice. The team will also study possible renovations to thecurrent tax office in the courthouse as part of the deal, whichwill cost anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000.

Supervisors want to start work on the project in early October,shortly after the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries andParks’ District Five headquarters vacates the county-owned buildingand opens a new office at Percy Quin State Park near McComb.

They are unsure, however, if the existing structure can berenovated adequately or if it should simply be torn down and a newbuilding constructed. The majority opinion on the board is torenovate the building and continue using it, while at least onesupervisor is in favor of new construction.

Waycaster and Associates Architects owner Johnny Waycaster saidhis team would study the building and compare its qualities to thetax office’s needs and supervisors’ wishes, but warned thestructure is “real close to the end of its useful life.”

“The piece of dirt under it is probably better than the buildingsitting on it,” he told supervisors Monday. “Concerns with thatbuilding would make it much more costly and difficult to make itmuch more than it is right now. I don’t see it as the long-termsolution to your problem.”

District Two Supervisor Bobby J. Watts, who first posed the ideaof new construction during last month’s failed final effort tomaintain the MDWF&P office in Brookhaven, said he would notvote for renovations. He contends the office building is so old andworn down that any further upgrades would be a waste of money.

“My thought is to demolish that building and build it back likeit’s supposed to be,” Watts argued. “As low as construction pricesare right now, if we’re going to get a grant, let’s get one for anew building.”

Watts said the new building should be built three stories tall,with two levels completed and occupied and the third left bare butready in case of future renovations. The bare floor could be usedto store the tax office’s many records, he said.

District Four Supervisor Doug Moak favors renovations, citingfinancial concerns amidst the current economy.

“I’d like to look for a short-term fix to get us going,” hesaid. “I don’t know if we’re ready to jump in hands-down. Let’s usewhat we’ve got. We’re not going to be able to live in a perfectworld for a while.”

Lincoln County Tax Assessor/Collector Nancy Jordan askedWaycaster if a third floor could be built onto the LincolnCounty-Brookhaven Government Complex, but he and supervisors saidthe structural work and costs necessary for such a plan would betoo great.

“Since I went and looked at it, it’s in worse shape than I everthought,” Jordan said of the Courthouse Annex.

The building has been used by MDWF&P since 1996, but thatlong tenure will end by Oct. 1 when the department moves itsDistrict Five headquarters – which serves 12 Southwest Mississippicounties – to McComb.

Wildlife officials made the decision to leave Brookhaven shortlyafter supervisors voted to cancel the department’s lease on theCourthouse Annex in January, opting instead to pursue the plan toplace the tax office in the building. Supervisors began negotiatinga solution to keep MDWF&P in Brookhaven in June after backlashfrom the public, which included approximately 1,200 signatures to apetition calling on supervisors to reverse their Januarydecision.

The negotiations failed and the department’s departure wasfinalized in early July after demands and counter demands betweenMDWF&P and supervisors were incompatible. The wildlifedepartment wanted to keep the building for five years at $500 permonth, while supervisors wanted to cut the space in half and charge$1,000 monthly to help cut down on expected large renovationcosts.

But large costs are likely to be incurred no matter the pathchosen by supervisors. Constructing a new building will obviouslybe an expensive undertaking, but due to the fact most of theCourthouse Annex’s interior walls are supporting walls,renovations, too will be costly – if not impossible.

Supervisors also want inside walls in the current tax office tobe examined to see if they can be removed to make more room for theoffice’s employees, but renovations to the existing office wouldstill likely be only temporary. Lincoln County – and citizens’business in the tax office – has grown, causing the size of the taxoffice to expand beyond its walls.

“For right now, to get everybody out of a bind, cut a hole inthat room and then get down there in that building,” said DistrictThree Supervisor Nolan Williamson.