The expansive new $12 million St Johns County Health and Human Services building has begun construction; lot clearing began even before the contracts were finalized. Plans revealed Tuesday have some Historic City News readers already referring to the new complex as the “Gauze Mahal”.
The contract with Lowes calls for the county to be moved out of the old building by the end of March, according to Assistant County Administrator Darrell Locklear. The contract with Elkins Constructors Inc. calls for the building to be completed by the first of 2015.
“It’s a relief to have them on site and have the work underway on schedule,” Locklear told reporters Wednesday. “We had a very good experience with them with this building, and, they were a good partner.”
Elkins is the same company that did the work on the St Johns County Administration Palace, also off San Sebastian View. Often referred to as the “Taj Mahal” by local residents, the county administration building, which houses some of the highest paid government employees in the area, stands as a monument to great excess — in a time when county taxpayers were losing their jobs, their own homes to foreclosure, or having their cars repossessed because they were no longer able to keep up with their payments.
The property where Health and Human Services currently operates has been labeled a “sick building” — one with aging core systems, including the HVAC system; whose cost to repair and refit would exceed its value or cost to replace. It was sold to Lowes, with the understanding that it would be demolished, for about $8 million, according to county estimates.
County Commissioner Ron Sanchez, who wants to be re-elected to a third four-year term this year, said putting up the new building provides financial stability for the county while serving the residents. “We would have had to put millions of dollars into that building, and we still would have had an old building,” Sanchez said in one published report. “It ended up being a really good choice that worked out really well for the county.”
Joy Andrews, Director of Health and Human Services, says that the new building is “more centrally located” within the county and will be on the Sunshine Bus route than the current building, constructed in the 1960’s as St Augustine General Hospital. Andrews’ assessment is not universally accepted, however. Many of the Health and Human Services clients are in closer proximity to the former location on US-1.