County eyes buying GSC’s Fidelity Express building

By FAITH HUFFMAN | News-Telegram News Editor

Hopkins County officials and employees Monday toured the Fidelity Express property on Jefferson Street, which the county is considering purchasing.

Buying the building, which wouldn't be available for county use until the fall of 2008 at the earliest, from Fidelity Express would fit into the county's plans to better organize several offices into a location more centrally located to the square.

County commissioners were optimistic yet reserved about the project, saying whether it moves forward will depend on funding, how well the property fits the county's need, and whether it would reasonably fit into the county's budget.

"It's all up in the air, really," Commissioner Beth Wisenbaker said. "It has lots of potential. We'll have to continue to look and see if it's going to be feasible."

Representatives from Fidelity Express, aware the county has been looking for additional accommodations for several offices, approached county officials in October to see if the county would be interested in purchasing the building. Fidelity is expanding and moving closer to parent company GSC Enterprises Inc. (Grocery Supply Company), and will be moving out of the building when their new digs are complete.

In January, commissioners agreed to advertise for bonds to be sold to finance the purchase should the county opt to go ahead with the tentative agreement with Fidelity Express.

The facility was valued at $1.3 million and would include two buildings about 10,000 square feet each, one that currently houses Fidelity Express offices, the other a warehouse. There is also a smaller space which serves as a storage area on the portion of the property facing College street.

The tour Monday was to see if the county and district clerks' needs would be met with the purchase, and to assess needs for renovations, what existing equipment and facilities which will be left at the building can be utilized, as well as what offices would fit into the facility and where, and how they need to be set up.

Millsap said that the warehouse could be used for two courtrooms, offices for three judges and holding cells. Street access from the Jefferson side ramp entrance would allow prisoners to be walked across the street into the facility and housed until their turn in court. Public restrooms likely would also be added.

After viewing the facility, however, District Clerk Patricia Dorner expressed concern about the distance between the clerks' offices and the courtrooms. She said ideally the two would be closely linked to the courtrooms for easy transport of legal documents during court sessions. She did note that having both her office and County Clerk Debbie Shirley's in the same building would be helpful, as those doing business in one office often also have to do business in or are redirected to the other.

Commissioner Burke Bullock said that getting as many things in one spot for public and operational convenience was one of the top goals for the county. Because most people drive downtown for banking, courthouse, postal and other needs, the location just down from the courthouse would be ideal, he said.

Commissioners Bullock, Beth Wisenbaker and Danny Evans as well as the county clerk and judges all agreed the location of the Fidelty Express building is ideal.

Another advantage of the property is its proximity to the jail, courthouse and annexes, which should make connecting the building to the county's fiber optic system relatively easier.

The empty space across the street and behind the county jail could be paved to provide more parking. Depending on space, some commissioners suggested perhaps moving some of the other offices, like the environmental and storage buildings, to the new location should they buy Fidelity Express building.

Buying the facility would also free up some funds which could be put toward the project, rather than being spent on rental and lease fees.

While the possibility of including the district attorney's office in the renovated Fidelity building was discussed, District Attorney Martin Braddy said that they are currently using forfeiture funds to pay fees for the building his office is located in. He would be agreeable to continuing to do that if it meant something else could be moved into the courthouse  instead of in a rented space, Bullock said.

Of course, another concern will be the size of each courtroom and office space, and whether it will accommodate all of business needs, without costing the county an exorbitant fee.

An architect presented an estimate of what renovating the entire structure would cost, and county officials asked that the firm develop another plan which would utilize a number existing features already in the Fidelity building, including the security system and camera, the vaults, backup generator and cubicles.

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