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Supervisors divided over Annex plans

The early findings of an architect’s study into the oldCourthouse Annex have been met with mixed opinions from LincolnCounty supervisors, who thus far remain divided over their optionsto either renovate the structure, demolish it and build anew, orjust leave it alone.

Detailed courses of action for the approximately 60-year-oldbuilding at 304 South Second St. will be discussed during the nextboard meeting on Oct. 5, when supervisors will have betterknowledge of cost estimates associated with the differentconstruction options. Supervisors have previously discussedrenovating the building and relocating portions of the LincolnCounty Tax Assessor/Collector’s Office there or demolishing thestructure and building a modern, multi-story office that can beused by the tax office and possibly other county departments.

For now, county leaders are comparing the early findingsrevealed by Natchez’s Waycaster and Associates Architects againsttheir own vision for the future of the annex. All constructionoptions are hinging on a limited county budget for fiscal year 2010and the availability of grant funding for the project.

At least on supervisor favors starting over from scratch andpotentially postponing the project until grant assistance isavailable.

“I will not vote for repairing the existing building,” saidDistrict Two Supervisor Bobby Watts. “It would be a bad vote to putany money into that building from our county.”

Watts has stood firm on his desire to see the annex razed andrebuilt since the discussion began early this summer, whensupervisors tried to negotiate a renovation plan with theMississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.

After voting not to renew the wildlife department’s lease on theCourthouse Annex in January, aiming to make room in the oldbuilding for the tax office, public resistance forced supervisorsto attempt to negotiate a new lease. Talks between the two entitiesbroke down in July when each rejected the other’s plan.

Supervisors wanted to halve the department’s space to make roomfor the tax office and double the rent to $1,000 per month. Thewildlife department blocked any renovation plan by seeking full useof the building at an extended $500 per month lease.

Now, the MDWF&P District Five headquarters is relocating toMagnolia by Oct.1. But supervisors still need more room for countyfunctions and are planning to go ahead with renovations or newconstruction.

But Waycaster’s Dan Dillard on Tuesday called the annex “notvery adaptable,” pointing out that many of its masonry interiorwalls are load-bearing and don’t lend themselves to renovation. Healso said almost all the building’s systems, from electrical toplumbing to heating and air, are meeting and exceeding their usefullifespans.

Watts’ resistance to renovation falls most inline with Dillard’sassessment.

“I will not vote to repair that building, and I will vote tobuild a new building on the same site,” Watts said. “I would wantit to be two stories completed and a third not completed, but aplace to hold our records. In time, if it was needed it would bethere. And the way we’re growing, it would be needed.”

District Three Supervisors Nolan Williamson is just theopposite.

“To me, it can be reworked,” he said. “That thing was not builton sand. I’m not an architect, but I don’t believe all those wallsare toting the weight of that roof.”

Williamson said there are plenty of buildings in Brookhavenolder than 60 years that are being revitalized, pointing to twoyears worth of successful renovations to downtown as an example. Hebelieves the Courthouse Annex can still be useful, and he wants torenovate it and the current tax office in the LincolnCounty-Brookhaven Government Complex to accommodate growth in thecounty and its functions.

District Five Supervisor Gary Walker is also leaning towardrenovating the building.

“I think it’s worth a shot,” he said. “When you walk in, you gostraight up a pretty wide hallway. I don’t know how the othersfeel, but from about halfway up that hall to the front, there’soffices all in there, and a heck of a conference room. You couldput the mapping office in there.”

Walker said he wanted to hear Waycaster’s full findings on Oct.5 before he committed to one course of action or the other, but hebelieves something has to be done to the annex. He and othersupervisors have voiced their intent to relocate county records andsome services from the Kees Building across First Street, where thecounty must pay rent.

District Four Supervisor Doug Moak declined to comment untilhearing the full report from architects on Oct. 5.

Board president the Rev. Jerry Wilson did not return messagesseeking comment.