At a time in St Johns County’s history when property values are near an all-time low, one of our two assistant county administrators has warned the actual county administrator that time is running out to make a decision on where to house the Health and Human Services Center beginning March 29, 2015.
In a memorandum to County Administrator, Michael Wanchick, Assistant County Administrator, Darrell M. Locklear, P.E., says the current tenant agencies utilizing space in the original St Augustine General Hospital, including the St Johns County Health and Human Services Department, may only “remain in the building for two years while alternative facilities are prepared.”
Some residents, and members of the board of commissioners, have expressed concern, and some criticism, with the appearance of “conspicuous consumption” during the construction of the County Administration Building located at 500 San Sebastian View in St Augustine — a building often referred to as the “Taj Mahal”.
Locklear informed Wanchick on April 30, that one option is “building a new consolidated facility on the existing County campus property and maintaining a central service center model.” Vice Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners, Bill McClure, has been adamant that such a plan puts access to the services out-of-reach of the residents in the west and southwest portions of the county that require them the most.
Also at issue is the cost of new construction; compared to the cost of leasing equivalent space in any one of several available commercial buildings near to the existing Service Center, or repurposing space in other property already owned by the county.
The county sold the aging building located at 1955 US-1 South to Lowe’s Home Centers, Inc. knowing that they intended to demolish it. Substantially the same structure that opened on March 30, 1974 shows fatigue and unreliable core systems, in part because of repeated interior remodeling and patching over the past 40-years. It would have cost the county more to repair the building than its fair market value, so they decided to sell. The deal closed on March 29, 2013.
Option two, for those county offices that make up the St Johns County Health and Human Services Department, would be the build-out and lease of space, yet to be procured, with the understanding that maintaining a central service center model may not be viable, Locklear said.
Either way, the County will continue to maintain the current facilities during the two year lease-back which was negotiated for $1.00 per year.
Locklear asked Wanchick to approach the Board of County Commissioners at today’s meeting so that he could have what he characterizes as “sufficient time to relocate the providers” at the Health and Human Service Center.
St Johns County is not obligated to provide space for at least one of the current tenants — the clinic operated by the US Veterans Administration. Although the Department of Health is a state agency, it operates the St Johns County Health Department from that location and is therefore provided space in the center to also operate an office of the Bureau of Vital Statistics.
The item and discussion followed during Item 6 on today’s agenda, and led to a 4-1 vote to approve a new building near the current administration building at a cost of about $11 million dollars; with Commissioner McClure objecting.