Alamance County’s board of commissioners may be having second thoughts about the purchase of a vacant bank building in Graham that its members had previously identified as a prospective new home for the local elections office, or at least about its purchase price.
During a regularly-scheduled meeting on Monday, the commissioners revisited the selling points of this former bank branch at 1128 South Main Street in light of some new information that has emerged since they first made an offer on the property nearly three months ago.
Particularly off-putting for the commissioners were the various repairs and improvements that the building would apparently need in order to serve as the election office’s headquarters. According to the county’s administrators, this additional work would effectively double the nearly $1 million that the county already proposes to spend to acquire the building.
The commissioners ultimately went behind closed doors to decide just how to proceed with their plans to purchase the property given the extra expense they’d incur in order to spruce up the building. Although the commissioners made no follow-up announcement after this private powwow, they nevertheless divulged some of the factors they were considering during an open discussion that preceded their closed session about the facility’s purchase.
The building at the center of Monday’s back-and-forth had originally attracted the board’s attention last fall after the unexpected sale of a former pharmacy along West Harden Street eliminated the county’s first choice for a site to house the elections office.
The owner of the old bank building, which formerly housed a branch of First Horizon, eventually agreed to sell the property to the county for a sum of $995,000. The county’s tentative acceptance of this offer gave way to a 60-day due diligence period, which was later extended by another 30 days to give the county some more time to look under the proverbial hood of its prospective purchase.
During Monday’s meeting, assistant county manager Sherry Hook briefed the commissioners on some of the discoveries that came out of this extended due diligence period, which she added will come to an end on February 13.
Hook noted that, among other things, an independent appraisal of the property has put its current value at $925,000 – or some $70,000 less than the property owner’s proposed sale price. Hook also alluded to another $131,000 in costs that the county would incur to patch up the building’s roof, replace its aging HVAC and fire suppression systems, and switch out an emergency generator that didn’t turn on when the county tried to activate it.
In addition to these immediate repair needs, Hook said that the county would have to spend another $650,000 on renovations to make the building more suitable for the elections office. She also recommended an additional outlay of $250,000 to enclose an old drive-thru in order to obtain the same amount of square footage that would’ve been available at the aforementioned pharmacy.
In the end, Hook said that these sundry improvements would take the county some six to nine months to complete. She added that they would also drive up the building’s overall cost to about $1,976,000.
“What I’m before the commissioners for today is to get some direction on what to do with this building,” the assistant county manager added. “What I see are three options: you move forward with the purchase of the building at the current price, you go back and renegotiate a lower price…or we just decide to walk away and look for another building.”
Even with the added repair and renovation expenses, the purchase of the former bank building still seemed like a good deal to commissioner Bill Lashley, who acknowledged that his own back-of-the-envelope calculations revealed the building’s potential cost to be about $153 a square foot.
“I’m in the real estate market right now,” Lashley added, “and I’ll tell you $150 a square foot ain’t bad.”
But a twofold increase in the building’s expense didn’t sit nearly as well with John Paisley, Jr., the chairman of Alamance County’s commissioners.
Paisley reminded his colleagues that, at one point, the county had plans to build a new elections office as part of the proposed redevelopment of the criminal courts complex that dominates the 200 block of West Elm Street. The board’s chairman conceded that this alternate vision for the elections office would take roughly two to five years to bring to completion.
“The positive of it would be is that it wouldn’t cost much more, if any, to build a brand new building,” he said. “I’m just very disappointed in the amount of construction cost that’s going to be needed to bring this building up to what we thought we were purchasing,” the board’s chairman added in reference to the structure on South Main Street, “and I would almost propose that we counteroffer on that.”
“I’m in the real estate market right now, and I’ll tell you $150 a square foot [approximate cost of the building with renovations] ain’t bad.”
– County commissioner Bill Lashley
“The positive of it would be is that it wouldn’t cost much more, if any, to build a brand new building. I’m just very disappointed in the amount of construction cost that’s going to be needed to bring this building up to what we thought we were purchasing, and I would almost propose that we counteroffer on that.”
– County commissioner chairman John Paisley, Jr.
“Everything needs to be as much as possible in the same location, and if we have to wait a little bit for construction, we’ll be fine.”
– County commissioner Pam Thompson
Paisley’s allusion to a new building along West Elm Street went over well with commissioner Pam Thompson, who deemed it far superior to the South Main Street location due to its relative proximity to the county’s headquarters.
“Everything needs to be as much as possible in the same location,” she added, “and if we have to wait a little bit for construction, we’ll be fine.”
But the extended timeline for a new building didn’t seem to get a full vote of confidence from Dawn Hurdle, the county’s interim elections director.
During Monday’s discussion, Hurdle reminded the commissioners that she and her colleagues are eagerly awaiting a new consolidated headquarters to replace the various scattered sites that presently house their equipment and operations.
“We are busting out of the seams currently,” she added, “and if we are all in one building it would serve such a wonderful purpose.”
The commissioners subsequently went into closed session to delve deeper into the proposed property purchase and to converse about two other, unrelated items – a legal issue they wanted to hash out with the interim county attorney and an unspecified personnel-related concern.