Courthouse annex upgrade done

Published 6:42 pm Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Four months ago there was water damage and a thousand deadbugs.

Today there’s new carpet, fresh paint and the unmistakable smell ofnewness. All that’s missing from the Courthouse Annex now are thecounty employees who will work there.

Lincoln County Administrator David Fields said the 65-year-oldcounty building at 304 South Second St. is usable again after a$45,000 remodeling job and a few weeks’ labor have turned a dampdungeon into a comfortable office space. Renovations to the formercounty health department are complete, leaving only theinstallation of telephone and network systems before half of thecounty tax office can move in.

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“It’s the best-looking building on the inside we probably have,”Fields said. “We were pleased with the work. There was nothingreally structurally wrong with it, and now we have a building whereyou wouldn’t mind having your wife come to work in.”

As soon as the communications equipment is installed, theappraising and mapping functions of the Lincoln County TaxCollector’s/Assessor’s Office will move in. Those offices are splitbetween the Lincoln County-Brookhaven Government Complex and rentedspace in the Kees auto building on First Street. The tax office iscrowded and not customer friendly – it handles almost twice thevolume it was designed for – and the county pays $500 per month forthe Kees offices.

Tax Collector Nancy Jordan said public foot traffic in the annexwill be light, as most of the tax office’s dealings with the publicwill remain at her existing office in the courthouse proper. Butmoving appraising and mapping will provide those employees withproper offices for the first time and relieve pressure and improvecustomer service in her current offices.

“We’ve just outgrown the room we have here,” she said. “I’m anxiousto get everything moved into it.”

As the date for the Courthouse Annex opening draws near, a long andoften painful saga for supervisors will come to a close.

Supervisors decided last January to reclaim the building for thetax office from the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheriesand Parks, which had used it for the District Five headquarterssince 1996. The decision caused a public relations black eye forcounty leaders that dragged on into the summer of 2009 and saw morethan 1,000 county residents petition for the lease to bereinstated.

Supervisors attempted to backtrack and keep MDWF&P from leavingBrookhaven, but the deal fell through in July when each siderejected the compromise proposals of the other. Supervisors wantedto half the building, renovate it and double the agency’s rent tocover the costs, and MDWF&P demanded the entire building at theexisting $500 per month rate, making any renovations or tax officemove impossible.

Once the wildlife department moved to Magnolia, supervisorsreclaimed a building in rough shape. It was damp and damaged, andsupervisors were divided over what to do with it. Support fordemolishing it and building a new, multi-level complex quickly diedout and light renovations were agreed on.

The decision to renovate may end up being supervisors’ best callduring the whole affair. When Bogue Chitto contractor ReddConstruction got to work, they found out the Courthouse Annex wasstill in good shape structurally.

“Once we got the damage patched and put three coats of paint on it,it dressed up nice,” said owner W.M. Redd. “It’s a real goodstructural building – that thing is well made. When we got downthere and had to cut a hole in the wall, we found out.”

Redd’s team made the front half of the building – about 3,000square feet – as good as it can get. It now contains new carpet,fresh paint, new and refurbished cabinets, new toilets and newfixtures all around. The front counter has been extended to allowfive work stations to serve the public, one heating unit has beenreplaced and the leaks in the concrete roof have been fixed.

“After we found out what it was made of, there’s no way I wouldhave torn it down for what they build now,” Redd said. “The oldcarpenters did a good job on that building.”