Sheriff hopes building will be new year's priority
Gary Pinnell | Highlands TodaySEBRING Sheriff Susan Benton is hoping the county commissioners will commit in January to refitting a portion of its Kenilworth office building for her property and evidence division.
Published: December 21, 2012
Published: December 21, 2012
When commissioners last spoke about the issue on June 26, they voted to construct a new $2.7 million building and lab on Kenilworth, where the sheriff's department current has buildings and a yard for infrequently used vehicles like boats and SWAT trucks.
However, Project Manager Chris Benson said, a new 10,000 square-foot building would cramp the site. "It would not work without removing what's there."
Although Benson suggested the site is "a little bigger than what Chris is telling you," she also conceded a new building would make the site "very, very tight," and room would still be needed for emergency vehicles. Not an inch would remain for future growth, she said.
Instead, Benson and Benton are now looking at the Kenilworth Building, an 18,000 square-foot office across the boulevard from the sheriff's current property and evidence facility. Originally purchased for the supervisor of election offices, training and storage, about 4,000 square feet are currently occupied with county commission and clerk of court records.
Supervisor of Elections Joe Campbell wanted to consolidate his Highlands County Government Center office, records and training facilities at Kenilworth. However, he did not seek reelection, and Supervisor-Elect Penny Ogg will take office in January. She may identify different needs.
That could leave 10,000 square feet that the commissioners may want to devote to the sheriff instead of new construction, Benson said. The Kenilworth Building also contains additional acreage for parking or more construction. Benson said it's also being looked at for an EMS station.
"The most glaring need for improved facilities within the sheriff's law enforcement facility is the crime scene/property and evidence areas," Benson told the commissioners in June. "The current facilities are woefully inadequate and located within an area of the jail facility that is very much needed for immediate jail facilities expansion."
He prioritized property and evidence and the crime scene lab as number one.
A letter from Ian A. Reeves, president of Architect Design Group of Orlando, said a previously published assessment of needs must be updated because Kenilworth would be a stand-alone facility and not part of the larger $10 million sheriff's office on George Boulevard.
"This is the Cadillac number," Commissioner Ron Handley said. "I can see all sorts of things we can take out. I guarantee you this isn't going to be $2.7 million."
The $2.7 million could be paid with current tax collections, Elwell said. But there's a problem with planning a new sheriff's office in eight years. The authority to collect a one-cent sales tax – which would pay for the $10 million facility – will expire in 2019.
"We really wanted to put it all in one facility," the sheriff said. "The next thing we looked at was property and evidence."
Reeves assured that the metal Kenilworth Building can be reinforced with steel mesh and concrete for a secure property and evidence facility and crime lab, Benton said.
Until the commissioners decide, property and evidence remains inside the jail, in other areas of the sheriff's building on Fernleaf Avenue, and on Kenilworth. The crime lab has also spread from Fernleaf Avenue into Liberty Star Plaza on U.S. 27.
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