A month shy of two years since the Sheriff’s Office evacuated its headquarters in Bunnell, yet more uncertainty and potential delays emerged over the future location of the Sheriff’s Operations Center Monday.
For the first time since the evacuation of the mold-plagued Operations Center off State 100, the Flagler County Commission chairman on Monday discussed the possibility of razing the building and constructing anew there–either a sheriff’s operations center or a south branch public library. That approach would nullify a recent agreement to locate both the operations center and a south branch library off Commerce Parkway in Bunnell. But it would also likely draw visceral opposition from the ranks of sheriff’s employees, to whom the old operations center location is as good as a toxic dump, whatever is built there.
The suggestion, by Commissioner Dave Sullivan, was prompted by a new finding by the county administration–the latest in the odyssey that’s been the search for a new operations center location–that the 8-acre Commerce Parkway location, while buildable, would not allow either the library or the operations center to expand in the future, if both were built there.
“If we decided to change direction and go toward either the library or the sheriff’s op towards the old center, there is an element of uncertainty,” County Administrator Jerry Cameron said.
For a year until a few weeks ago, the matter of the sheriff’s operations center appeared to have been settled following the commission’s decision to locate it off Palm Coast Parkway, on vast county acreage next to the existing main branch of the public library. (The county owns 18 acres there.) In early March Sullivan had discussions with Cameron about selling that county acreage instead and using the money to help pay for construction of the operations center on land the county owns along Commerce Boulevard in Bunnell–the small artery that veers south of State Road 100, just before the county government and courthouse complex.
On April 6, a year after voting to build the operations center in Palm Coast, the commission switched course and approved the Sullivan plan.
Today, County Administrator Jerry Cameron raised a caveat about the plan. County staff analyzed the layout of the Commerce Parkway parcel and met with the architects designing the south branch library and the operations center. “Jointly, they determined that it was possible to put the two on the piece of property,” Cameron said. “The problem that they saw was that there is no room for future expansion for either the library or the sheriff, and the site plan was a little less than ideal.”
At the same time, the county was having discussions with First Baptist Church, across the street from Commerce Parkway, and the possibility of the church selling some of its 15 acres to the county. “That would allow the library or the sheriff’s department to be built on that side, returning the other site to single site,” Cameron said. While it’s still possible to build both library and operations center on the 8 acre-cite, “it would make a lot of sense to pick up that property and split the two,” Cameron said of the church property. He put the probability of acquiring the land at 60 percent.
“The sheriff’s operations center is one of the most public problems that our staff has faced,” Sullivan said. “We own the building, we have to build the building, with input. I’m concerned that we never seem to get to a final, final decision on a lot of this, and it’s understandable. But I’m just concerned. Time is going by, and final decisions need to be made.”
Sheriff Rick Staly has left the siting decision to the county–the landlord in all matters involving constitutional officers’ facilities. Last year he’d favored the Palm Coast Parkway location. In April he welcomed the Bunnell location. Now, he said Monday, he’d welcome siting the sheriff’s office on either side of Commerce Parkway, but cautioned against building jointly on a single side.
“I don’t think that if we are on one side of the road or the other side will slow this project down at all,” Staly said. “In fact, depending on if they’re successful with the church property, my personal opinion after talking to the architects, that it may actually speed it up, because there’s some zoning issues and a lot of infrastructure, because the land is low, where that library joint site is, and it would then, if it was able to be split, it would allow expansion for both types of operations, which we clearly will not have if we’re both together. The architect group did a quick site plan showing both. Can you do it on one property? Yes, but you’re going to leave some headaches for commissioners and sheriffs that follow you 10, 15, 20 years from now.” (Cameron said the church property is not low.)
A deal with the church would make sense for both county and church, Cameron said. “At present we are proceeding with the plan that was passed by the commission, which is to put both of those on the same site, and that’s because that’s a policy decision, that’s a decision that the board of county commissioners made.” Commissioners did not alter that course Monday, not having certainty about the church property. By broadcasting their need, of course, they’ve just ramped up the value of the church’s land.
“Theoretically,” Sullivan said toward the end of the discussion, “if we tore the old sheriff’s operations down theoretically you could put the library or a new sheriff’s operations center there provided you took the concrete base and everything out, and it is land we own, and it does front directly onto Route 100. So if we take out the cost of demolition, since that’s already been approved, could you make a case for putting the library there, if it was cost effective and we couldn’t get the church property and so on and so forth. I’d just like to leave that as an outlier or a possible item maybe to look at.” The sheriff did not address Sullivan’s idea, but has previously cast serious doubt on the approach.
The county has allocated $250,000 to demolish the old operations center, if it proves unable to sell the building.
“The property cost of acquisition of property next to the church should not exceed that,” Cameron said. “That’s pretty much of a financial wash there. While that may be possible to do that, once we did the demolition of everything that’s there, we would be required to do an environmental impact or environmental studies, phase 1 and 2. If that turned up something else, that would end up delaying the project if we had to switch course again.”