County plans to buy iconic Piper ‘Blue Building’

‘Growing government’ compels move, officials say

LOCK HAVEN — The Clinton County commissioners said they plan to buy the iconic former Piper “Blue Building” and will consolidate many county government services to that structure near the William T. Piper Memorial Airport.

Pointing to a “growing county government,” Commissioner Jeff Snyder characterize the blue building as an “ideal location.”

The building now owned by Mercer Insurance Group Inc. will cost $800,000, plus $150,000 for its contents that includes office furniture and other items.

In turn, the county plans to close and then sell its building along Route 64 in Porter Township that houses the agricultural extension, conservation district and learning center offices at an estimated price of $300,000.

In prepared statement at Thursday’s meeting, Snyder and fellow Commissioners Pete Smeltz and Paul Conklin said the initiative will “put as many county government services together under one roof for the convenience of those who require our services.”

Snyder credited Conklin with the initial concept, and said for the last several months the commissioners have been negotiating the purchase of the office building and its 4-plus acres at the west end of the airport.

“As of yesterday, we have reached an agreement in principle – subject to the execution of a formal sales agreement – to purchase that property,” Snyder said. “It will take several months to plan the moving of the following county offices to that location (from The Garden Building): The Register and Recorder, Treasurer, Assessment, Auditors, Agricultural Extension, Conservation District, Planning, Payroll, Voter Registration, Commissioners, Geographic Information System (GIS), Management Information Systems (MIS), and Children and Youth offices.”

The county Sheriff’s Office will then move to the first floor of the courthouse, as will the District Attorney’s Office.

“We will no longer have to rent space at Grove Street, and for the first time in a long time we will have all Children and Youth Services staff under one roof,” Snyder said.

Probation and Parole will occupy most of first floor of the Garden Building, and commissioners said the first floor of the that building may also see third-party tenants since space will be freed up.

The Blue building, meanwhile, is occupied by Mercer and Davis Insurance Agency LLC, which plans to erect a new office building along East Church Street in the downtown before late summer 2017.

The new Davis building – expected to have a price tag of $1 million – will be a a two-story brick structure with 6,800 square feet on the vacant lot on East Church Street, between Hope Hose Co. and Fox’s Market House Restaurant.

County government is already preparing to run fiber connectivity to the Mercer property. That might take several months to complete. Board members said they will meet with staff as they move forward.

“Our goal will be to create a comfortable work environment that best serves the public,” Snyder said.

There are over 233 parking spaces next to the Blue Building, with room for more.

It was renovated in 2001 and 2002 “and looks great,” Snyder said.

The commissioners said they were required to conduct two fair-market assessments on the Blue Building and they came in at $800,000 and $1 million, respectively.

At an average cost of $24.57 per square foot, Conklin said the property was “very affordable.”

The commissioners are expected to close on the property at the end of January.

The property consists of 4.89 acres. The building’s three floors encompass 32,561-square-feet, and there are a large number of restrooms, conference rooms, lunch rooms and storage space.

Once occupied, Snyder said that, for the first time in recent memory, the county will no longer be required to rent office space, and ownership of county property will be reduced to four properties: The Garden Building at Jay and Main streets; the courthouse at Water and Jay streets; he 911 emergency center in Flemington and the Blue Building.

As an added benefit, Snyder said, work toward creation of an inmate day reporting center in the courthouse will free up prison beds by allowing more inmates under house arrest to be  monitored. Those added beds could then be filled via contracts with local, state and federal corrections facilities to finance the costs of running the Clinton County Correctional Facility.

“The “day reporting center” could transform a $300,000 deficit at the prison into a $300,000 surplus,” Snyder said.

Conklin said when it was first advertised for sale in the spring of 2015, the Blue Building was listed for sale at $1.7 million by Mericle Commercial Real Estate.

But based on the latest appraisals, the price has dropped, he said, making the purchae more affordable to county government.

Mercer Insurance Group is owned by United Fire Group of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The steel construction building saw a number of improvements about 15 years ago, and now has central air-conditioning, a natural-gas fired hot air heating system, and a flat rubber roof. The functional floor plan can accommodate many uses, an advertising flyer stated.

Smeltz said the purchase will be financed, at first, via county surplus funds, but will then be paid for through a 2017 bond issue, or loan.

That loan will also finance extensive renovations to the Clinton County Correctional Facility estimated to cost $3.9 million.

To that end, the commissioners yesterday increased its contract cost with The EADS Group Inc. from $122,000, to $171,500.

EADS is doing the engineering, archictural and design for what will be a comprehensive list of improvements at the prison, from heating and cooling to security, after the firm – at the behest of Warden John Rowley – identified shortcomings to the prison’s infrastructure.

That work is estimated to cost $3.9 million.

Also included in the loan will be repairs to the courthouse domes and the smaller courtroom.

The commissioners said they will discuss finances with bond counsel Monday

“Everything is connected,” Smeltz said, adding that the commissioners will review their list of capital projects in coming weeks to see what will be included in the final funding package.

The bond, which will be used to replenish the general fund, is expected to be floated sometime in February.