Annex building use as tax office appears unclear

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A two-month architectural study of the Courthouse Annex is notyet complete, but the early outlook on the old building suggestscounty supervisors’ plan to renovate the structure and relocate thetax office there may not work.

Dan Dillard, an associate with Natchez-based Waycaster andAssociates Architects performing a space utilization study forsupervisors, said the annex at 304 South Second St. is not suitedfor the heavy seasonal foot traffic generated by the Lincoln CountyTax Assessor/Collector’s Office. He said the building, which isapproximately 60 years old, is at or nearing the end of its usefullife, with basically every internal system exceeding its plannedlifespan.

“It may be situated on a site close to these other municipalbuildings, but it doesn’t have a large enough area for that kind ofvolume,” Dillard said. “It’s like you have a 40,000-mile tire with60,000 miles on it.”

Dillard said the Courthouse Annex is “not very adaptable,” withlimiting factors including a flat roof, masonry interior walls andworn-out systems, with electrical, plumbing and circulation systemson the edge of their life expectancy.

Perhaps the biggest drawback of the building is its masonrywalls, many of which are load bearing and cannot be torn down forremodeling. If the walls prevent the building’s interior from beingreshaped and remodeled, supervisors’ original plan for renovationand relocation of the tax office could have to be nullified.Supervisors have also discussed demolishing the building andconstructing a new, multi-story structure, but economic restraintsmay force that project’s postponement.

“I’m sure (supervisors) are looking at … what kind of economicconditions we have for this next coming year, and in that case, Ithink they’re probably going to err on the side of prudence,”Dillard said. “(The annex) has been in service, and it can still bein service. But will it be here 20 years from now? The prospectsfor that don’t look as good.”

Dillard’s final findings of Waycaster and Associate’s inspectionof the courthouse annex and the current tax office within theLincoln County-Brookhaven Government Complex will be presented tosupervisors at their next board meeting on Oct. 5. By that date,the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks will bere-established in their new offices in Magnolia’s old NationalGuard Armory, which opens its new District Five office for businesson Oct. 1.

MDWF&P decided to leave Brookhaven for Magnolia aftersupervisors voted in January not to renew the department’s lease onthe Courthouse Annex, where the District Five office had been since1996. Wildlife officials said the “eviction” notice took them bysurprise, and after public outcry at supervisors’ decision, the twogroups tried to reach a compromise to keep the department inBrookhaven.

MDWF&P finally decided to go ahead with relocation plansafter negotiations with supervisors broke down in early July.Supervisors wanted to halve the department’s space in thecourthouse annex and double its rent to $1,000 per month to pay forplanned renovations, while wildlife officials wanted an extendedlease for the whole building at $500 per month.

Wildlife officials are leasing the armory in Magnolia – whichwas renovated in 2002 – from Pike County for $500 per month.

The future of the Courthouse Annex notwithstanding, Waycasterarchitects have also been inspecting the current tax office, whichLincoln County Tax Assessor/Collector Nancy Jordan has said was toocramped for her staff to adequately serve the public.

But Dillard said the tax office’s heavy volume problems are notas bad outside of tax season, and the volume problem occurs whencitizens try to get all their tax business taken care of at once.After observing the tax office over the last two months, he saidvisitors engage in multiple discussions at their terminals.

“Probably nine months out of the year, it seems to have amplespace for its intended purposes,” Dillard said.

Another problem is the design of the government complex, Dillardsaid.

He described it as being built during the “Mod Squad era,”pointing out that not much thought was given to circulation when itwas built. One main problem causing congestion in the tax office,he said, is that visitors have to enter and exit through the samedoor.