Bids to construct the controversial new St Johns County Health and Human Services Department, nicknamed by some local fiscally-conservative groups as the “Gauze Mahal”, were opened yesterday and Historic City News has learned that the winning bid will be announced tomorrow.
The original St Augustine General Hospital building, later known as “Flagler West”, has been home to the county’s Health and Human Services Department, and its tenants, for many years until the cost to maintain the aging structure was determined to be prohibitive.
Under the terms of an agreement between the county and North Carolina-based Lowe’s home improvement centers, St Johns County will sell the 15-acre property at 1955 US-1 South, for $8 million. Take from that the cost, borne by the county, to demolish what some have said is a “sick” building.
County Administrator, Michael Wanchick, has previously estimated that the sale of the current building and property, which the county owns free-and-clear, will be about $4 million less than what they will spend constructing the new building behind the County Administration Building — which has been referred to as the Taj Mahal since it was first opened.
The bone of contention for many Historic City News readers, including at least one member of the Board of County Commissioners, has been the wisdom of relocating so far away from the current facility; if for no other reason than the proximity of San Sebastian View to the expected clients of the services to be offered and the limited availability of public transportation.
Also at issue is the decision to build another new county building, given the large amount of vacant property available closer to the existing location, and whether the county is better off going into debt to pay for the financial short-fall, as opposed to leasing and remaining debt-free. The child welfare agencies and medical offices will be relocated to the new facility, but not the Veterans Outpatient Clinic.
Five companies have submitted bids which are estimated to be in the $12 million range.