Last month it looked as if plans for the Flagler County Sheriff and the Bunnell city administration to move into the old courthouse had collapsed. A commissioner who’d worked on the plan felt “railroaded.” Bunnell, whose administration is housed in a suite of offices in the county’s administration building, had no money that could make a difference in the deal. And Sheriff Don Fleming, who detests controversy, “postponed” his intentions, even though his troops are cramped and away from all city centers in their offices near the county jail.
All that now appears to be as old as the historic courthouse itself, which was built in 1926. Fleming is interested again. Bunnell may even have money. The county certainly does. Tonight, the county commission is set to approve spending $143,000 in the first step toward making the courthouse annex the sheriff’s new office.
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In a letter to County Commission Chairman George Hanns, Fleming said his office “would be willing to solely occupy all of the floors in the annex portion of the Bunnell historic courthouse facility, provided the county would be able to securely operate the front half of the building and upgrade the parking.” Additionally,” Fleming wrote on June 21, “I would ask that the historic front half of the building have its own entrance and elevator, thereby being physically separated from the annex facility. If construction is accomplished in this manner, I would have no concerns as to who occupies the space in the historic courthouse, as long as it is not another law enforcement agency.”
Fleming was worried that the courthouse might also become home to the Bunnell Police Department, which currently occupies a trailer across from the old Bunnell City Hall. Bunnell is now considering moving the police department to Carver Gym on the south end of town. Other potential occupants of the old courthouse are the Bunnell city administration, the public branch library in Bunnell, and the Flagler County Historical Society, all of whom have been in discussion with the county over how to use the old courthouse again.
The two obstacles were money and logistics. Because of security matters, the sheriff doesn’t want his offices mingling in any way with those of other agencies. Investigators, detectives, deputies, suspects and other individuals whose privacy may be at a premium are in and out of the sheriff’s facility. There were some questions over how the sheriff’s operations could be isolated from the rest. Those questions appear to have been resolved as the sheriff alone would occupy the three-story annex, which was built in 1982.
Money remains an obstacle. The county is not rolling in it. The county calculates that the complete renovation of the courthouse will cost $6.5 million. The county commission included $460,000 in the current year’s budget for courthouse renovation. That took care of roof repairs and replacement of the air and heat units in the annex, engineering costs, termite inspections and treatment ($28,000 for those two items), and other costs adding up to $378,000.
There is still $82,000 from the original appropriation of $460,000 that hasn’t been spent. But the new round of spending requires $205,000. That’s for architectural design work and take care of the building’s historic designation (a three-step, $17,000 process that would develop a local ordinance and register the building with the state and the national registry of historical places).
Bunnell may also have $2 million to spend on the courthouse, though that is far from the certain. The $2 million was a 2005 earmark by a developer to build Commerce Parkway in Bunnell. That, according to County Administrator Craig Coffey, is no longer in the works. Bunnell could decide to use the money as an “enhancement project for the courthouse as an historic structure on a state highway,” Coffey says, if Bunnell pursues the money as such.
It’s a long shot. But the county, Bunnell and the sheriff are much closer to a re-occupation of the old courthouse today than they were just last month.