Thursday, April 18, 2024

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Graham, NC 27253
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Commissioners explore alternatives to proposed courthouse expansion

Alamance County’s commissioners have decided to go back to the drawing board with a much-deliberated proposal to expand the county’s largest criminal courts building in Graham.

During a regularly-scheduled meeting on Monday, the commissioners voted 4-to-1 to have the design firm CRA Associates revisit its earlier plans to renovate and expand the Judge J.B. Allen, Jr. Court House – at an estimated cost of $67 million to the county’s taxpayers.

This proposal, which called for the complete overhaul of the existing 30-year-old edifice as well as the construction of a three-story annex, was itself a stripped-down version of an even more ambitious plan that would’ve cost the county about $100 million to consummate. Yet, even this cut-rate proposal would prove too dear for the county’s governing board, which has been inundated with various other, big-ticket projects since the court building’s expansion was first broached in 2021.

Earlier this year, the county’s administrators presented the commissioners with two alternatives to the proposed expansion.

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One suggestion, which would set the county back $40 million to $50 million, still called for the full renovation of the existing court building along with the construction of a downsized administrative wing alongside it.

The second suggestion, which bore the comparatively modest price tag of $10 million to $15 million, would have the county yield up its own headquarters for the court system’s use and relocate its own operations to various, unspecified locations in Graham.

Although the commissioners have yet to choose among these two options and the earlier $67 million expansion, they laid the groundwork for a potential shift to either of the less costly alternatives on Monday.

At the behest of Alamance County’s manager, a majority of the commissioners agreed to set aside $18,000 from the county’s savings in order to have CRA Associates work up a “scaled-down,” “reduced scope” version of the court building’s expansion.

The lone vote against this 4-to-1 decision was cast by commissioner Pam Thompson for reasons she didn’t specify during the meeting. She later told The Alamance News that she is fundamentally opposed to the courthouse expansion due to the burden it puts on the taxpayers and the existence of other higher priority projects for the county itself.

In the meantime, the commissioners appeared to make some headway in their consideration of the county staff’s third proposed option for quartering the local court system.

As a possible prelude to ceding the county’s HQ to the courts, the county’s governing board huddled behind closed doors after their regular, public proceedings on Monday in order to explore the potential purchase of four privately-owned parcels in Graham.

Ahead of this confidential confab, Alamance County’s attorney Rik Stevens revealed that the four parcels under consideration include property that Alamance Farmers Mutual owns at 107 North Maple and 128 West Harden streets (the latter having served long ago as the Graham post office).

The former Graham post office at 128 West Harden Street is another of the locations being considered for county office space.
An insurance building at 107 North Maple Street next to the post office is another potential location for additional county office space.

Also up for discussion were two lots at 141 South Main Street that belong to Bank of America, which has announced plans to close its Graham operations at that location on April 9.

Under North Carolina’s Open Meetings Law, Stevens was required to disclose these particular details before the commissioners embarked on their closed session. Also in keeping with this law’s requirements, the county disclosed the intended use of this property as potential office space for the county.

Stevens did not specify whether these four parcels were to be considered as part of the aforementioned plan to surrender the county’s existing headquarters to the local courts system. Yet, in their previous discussions about this idea, some of the commissioners floated the Bank of America building as a viable new site for some county offices should they decide to clear out of the county’s current HQ.

Home to a stately Edwardian-era residence with a floor area in excess of 5,300 square feet, this particular tract presently has an assessed tax value of $1,107,578. It stands cheek to jowl with a small parking lot that also belongs to the bank and is valued at $25,910.

The other two parcels owned by Alamance Farmers Mutual contain two buildings that, between them, also boast a floor area of roughly 5,300 square feet. The county’s tax office places the combined value of the two lots at $564,013.

The commissioners ultimately spent about 80 minutes behind closed doors mulling these proposed property purchases as well as an unrelated employment contract that an unspecified county staff member has sought. The commissioners took no action on either of these items when they returned from their private powwow.

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