Butler County leaders question recommendations for moving spaces

Next two years could entail enhanced security at government building.

The Butler County commissioners questioned some of the recommendations in a recent space reutilization study and assured other office holders and employees decisions won’t be made unilaterally.

The commissioners hired CBRE, Inc. for $145,000 last summer to do the study, as they endeavor to right-size county government and enhance customer service for the taxpayers they serve. Mary Dungan with CBRE gave a presentation via Zoom on Monday that was barely audible — except to the commissioners who had her on their computer screens — but the three commissioners’ dissatisfaction with the plan came across loud and clear.

“I’m not sure how realistic this recommendation is, I was looking for something that was more definitive and doable,” Commissioner Don Dixon said. “I understand the categories I just don’t understand the timing and how you’d pay for it and all these moving parts.”

Commissioner T. C. Rogers told the Journal-News the study didn’t give much guidance and “it came off pretty general and didn’t seem to have any new ideas.”

Commissioner Cindy Carpenter told the Journal-News “we didn’t get a definitive plan” and “that’s the challenge of it, I don’t think we got something useful out of it.”

The report includes a number of “scenarios” the company ranked according to cost, level of disruption and benefit. The study doesn’t give cost estimates for any of the scenarios but has some basic cost-per-square-foot figures. The company conducted interviews and focus groups with other office holders, departments and agencies as part of the fact finding mission.

The biggest potential moves are building a new criminal justice complex, moving Domestic Relations Court in the Juvenile Justice Center, co-locating all of the social services agencies under Job and Family Services, emptying the Administration Building where the county auditor, recorder and other county offices are housed and consolidating the coroner’s business offices and morgue.

Carpenter zeroed in on the criminal justice complex idea.

“I was really surprised that that was proposed, we’ve got a lot of moving parts here and in order for us to move forward the commissioners would have to first agree on some of these very large investments into buildings if we’re to move the domestic relations court we’re going to have to have some capital expense,” she said.

“If we’re going to have a criminal justice complex development, we have to have property and we have to have agreement by our judges and that would be millions of dollars, I can’t even imagine how much now.”

ExploreButler County offices may undergo massive shuffle to right-size space issues

The commissioners asked Dungan where the idea came from and Carpenter told the Journal-News — Dugan’s response was inaudible — she said other counties have similar facilities.

When the recommendations were released, the Journal-News asked Common Pleas Administrative Judge Keith Spaeth and Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser about the proposal.

“I think I can safely speak for the seven general division judges when we say we’re blessed with the space that we’re in, we find it to be secure and functional and it works very well,” Spaeth said. “We just continue to improve on it, we’ve been here 22 years roughly and we’ve invested quite a bit in this space as well. We haven’t seen anything about the criminal justice center, we’re not opposed to it, we just have to see what was being suggested. We don’t want to go from the pot to kettle.”

Gmoser said it would be a “re-do” of what they already have, and a huge expense.

County Administrator Judi Boyko told the Journal-News CBRE apparently “connected the dots” after hearing from people in focus groups that security is a concern with the court system sharing the public building and some court staffers mentioned it would be more efficient to be closer to the Clerk of Courts.

Dungan did not respond to a request to discuss the study.

If the courts, prosecutor, public defender, clerk of courts and other justice system offices moved out of the Government Services Center, Carpenter is wondering what they will do with all the empty space in GSC.

“All these scenarios are things they could have laid out for us, since they’re making these recommendations,” Carpenter told the Journal-News.

There are separate county buildings for the Board of Elections, Children Services, Developmental Disabilities, Care Facility, county engineer, health department, the Juvenile Justice System, the Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Services Board, the morgue, OhioMeansJobs and the Probate and Area Courts. The sheriff’s office also has three jail facilities and the dispatch center.

The proposal also calls for the consolidation of Children Services, Children Support Enforcement, Job and Family Services and OhioMeansJobs. The agencies are currently housed in three different locations, the study said long-term creating a “one-stop-shop” campus is recommended.

So if all those people exited the GSC Dixon told the Journal-News they could possibly lease some space. Hamilton shares the GSC with the county and the city leases out the majority of the fourth floor and all of the fifth, sixth ad seventh floors and receive $231,936 annually in rent, according to Finance Director Dave Jones.

Dixon asked what is “achievable in the next 24 months.” Dungan apparently listed off what was in study, namely beefing up security at the GSC, right-sizing the Board of Elections building —which has wasted space — which means relocating the Soil & Water and OSU extension offices and moving some records to the Record Center.

Dixon told the Journal-News his priorities are emptying the Administration Building and getting JFS all on one campus on Fair Avenue, however he said the commissioners will not be making these decisions unilaterally.

“It’s not going to be us telling them what it is that they need,” he said. “That’s not the way it’s going to work. Typically that seems to be the way it usually works in government whoever has the money determines the plan, that’s not how it’s going to be, it’s going to be inclusive.”

Commissioner T.C. Rogers said over the next few years the commissioners already know they need to expand the 911 dispatch center, they are looking at reconfiguring the entire campus in the area around the BOE and addressing excess space inside and “we’d always talked about getting out of” the Administration Building.

The commissioners have already said they plan to expand the sheriff’s dispatch center and co-locate the morgue and the coroner’s administrative offices so those will be first on the agenda next year.

Boyko told the Journal-News while the presentation left something to be desired, the CBRE study will be useful when examining some of the other potential projects.

“I would not want to throw away some of the efforts and the findings that were presented as a point of conversation for the board,” Boyko said. “Since I’ve been here they’ve charged the staff with let’s try to look at how we assess our portfolio of facilities and buildings and properties, let’s see how we can maximize the space we have the most productively and some of those findings are opportunities to start those discussions.”

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