County plans for more space in Virginia City, looks for public input

After analyzing several options for space for county offices and other functions, the Madison County Commissioners are ready to present citizens with a plan for moving forward.

The plan could include purchasing property owned below Virginia City where county communications, health and emergency management offices are located, building a new office building across the street from the courthouse and remodeling the old courthouse, primarily to include an elevator to make it handicap accessible, said commissioner Jim Hart.

The new office building across from the courthouse would help consolidate county offices and the courthouse would be home to court functions, like the district and justice court offices along with the county attorney’s office.

The county is already planning to move the dispatch office to the office space on the highway below town, which is currently owned by Bob Nevin, Hart said. The move will take dispatch out of the old courthouse, where it is more vulnerable to a natural disaster.

“Really the first phase would be the possibility of buying the Nevin property,” he said. “With dispatch going down there we need to make the decision whether or not to buy it.”

The price tag on the property is around $650,000, Hart said.

Purchasing the Nevin property would also leave open the option of building a new detention center there, eventually moving the sheriff’s office out of the courthouse and resolving a dire need the county has for a better jail facility.

“It’s going to have to happen considering the lawsuits and things like that we’ve had in the past over the current jail, something has to be done,” he said.

Residents of Madison County have twice voted down $10 million bonds for a new detention center, he said. However, some of the public sentiment against a new detention center was that it was being proposed at the old courthouse in the middle of historic Virginia City and the price tag.

Building below town on flat ground will reduce the costs and take the jail off of main street Virginia City, Hart said.

The other issues of space for both courts and the various county offices can be answered by a new building that would only be across Wallace Street from the old courthouse, effectively consolidating county offices again.

Originally, the proposal for new office space was to add on to the back of the existing courthouse, but that plan was expensive – about $10 million, he said.

The commissioners realized that a new building would be cheaper and that would mean only minimal remodels to the old courthouse.

The new office building would cost about $2.5 million and the elevator and remodel to the old courthouse would be about $500,000, Hart said.

Commissioners have been saving money over the past several years and he thinks the county can do all three projects without raising taxes or passing a bond.

“We’re trying to be as fiscally responsible and responsive to the public as we can,” he said.

Currently county offices are scattered in three general places around Virginia City – the old courthouse, a house across the gulch from the courthouse and in the offices below town. It’s an unhandy set up for both the public and the county personnel, Hart said.

Peggy Kaatz Stemler, Madison County Clerk and Recorder, is anxious for new space. Her staff and office is completely full.

“We’re just extremely overcrowded and we deal with the public every day,” Stemler said.

As clerk and recorder, she is mandated to keep many of the land records for the county. Many of the documents her office collects are large maps and some go all the way back to 1863. There simply is little space left.

One proposed solution is to use archive space in the new county library that’s being proposed, Stemler said. Another is to put archival space in a new county office building.

After working with architects and county staff, the commissioners are preparing to begin presenting their plans to the public, Hart said.

“We’ll go around the county and ask folks if the direction we think is right is a good plan,” he said. “We need to get some feed back to see if they agree with us or not.”

Hart hopes the commissioners can make a decision in the next two months.

For more information on the commissioner’s plan, contact them at 843-4277.

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