ALPENA – The number of buildings Alpena County owns puts a strain on the annual budget due to maintenance and repair work.
Now the Board of Commissions may consider selling the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services building it owns but recently became vacant after the state department moved to a new facility.
The district received an offer from an unnamed developer who wants to buy the building, but little is known about the deal or the developer’s plan for the facility, which sits behind the district’s annex building. The proposal could encourage the county to issue a tender to see if there is more interest in the office building. The matter was discussed in a closed session during the Facilities, Capital and Strategic Planning Committee on Wednesday, and the issuance of an RFP could be discussed further at Tuesday’s meeting of the All Committee of Commissioners.
Commissioner John Kozlowski, who sits on the planning committee, said the longer the building sits unused, the more money it will cost the county because it still needs to be heated. He said funding someone to lease it long-term is also an option, but for now he’s leaning towards the county keeping it and eventually moving county operations that are currently being conducted at the courthouse across the street. He said the courthouse needed a major renovation to allow people with disabilities access to the upstairs courtroom and plans to expand the courthouse would be more expensive than using the former DHHS building.
“If we sold it, we wouldn’t have to pay for it, but I’m not in favor of selling it,” Kozlowski said. “It needs quite a bit of renovation before we can use it, but we’re having big issues with the courthouse, and I don’t want it to be multimillion-dollar expansions when we can spend less and move across the street.”
Kozlowski said he can support a short-term lease while the county finalizes a plan for what to do next with the facility.
The DHHS building is just a facility that the county owns and is financially responsible for. It also owns the Fairgrounds, Plaza Pool, Northern Lights Arena, Health Department, and Courthouse and outbuildings. The district is aiming for a facility study that shows more about the condition of the facilities and their ideal uses.
In 2013, the district had far-reaching energy improvements made to the facilities. The county hired Massachusetts-based energy efficiency and renewable energy company Ameresco Inc. for $1.5 million to reduce operating costs and upgrade things like boilers, lights, water heaters and air conditioning. The county has taken on bond debt to carry out the project, and each facility is responsible for paying its portion of the bond payment, which hampers their budgets, particularly the pool and arena.
Kozlowski said he wasn’t sure if AMERESCO did any work on the DHHS facility.
Steve Schulwitz can be reached at 989-358-5689 at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @ss_alpenanews.com.