OAKHURST — With escrow now closed and renovation efforts well underway, county officials said this week the new Satellite Government Center in Oakhurst should be open for business early next year.
“We’re really happy to be able to bring government services to the people of Oakhurst,” Mary Anne Seay, special projects manager for Madera County, told supervisors at Tuesday night’s On the Road board meeting, held at the Oakhurst Community Center.
“Now that we own the property, we’ve started to identify and address the minor challenges and button up some details,” Seay added.
Seay told supervisors that next week (Sept. 18), county officials are slated to meet with the architect, Clovis-based Paul Halajian, whose firm has been hired for space planning design services at the new satellite center, which is located just off Highway 49 at 40232 Junction Drive.
The property was formerly the home of the St. Agnes Medical Center and now is mostly vacant except for two tenants — Fogg, Maxwell & Lanier and San Joaquin Rehabilitation Hospital — who lease about 2,600 square feet within the building. Seay said those tenants intend to stay and the rent the county collects from them pays for more than half of the current debt service on the new facility.
“We’re not going to be completely sure” of how much the renovation work will cost – or when it will be completed — “until we put the project out to bid and get responses from contractors,” Seay said this week.
“Realistically, I think it’s safe to say the new satellite center will be open by early 2020. I understand it’s something of a contractor’s market right now so it will be interesting to see what kind of bids come in,” Seay added.
The 13,383-square-foot building, which the county purchased for $1.8 million earlier this year, has already been upgraded by the county’s Building Maintenance department to include a repaired and certified fire-suppression system, recently serviced HVAC units and re-keyed door locks that match the county standards, according to Seay.
She added that some of the departments that will have office space at the satellite center have money in their own budgets that can be used for a portion of the renovation costs.
Currently, proposed additional improvements to the building include modifications to the main lobby counter, new carpet and updated signage, Seay said.
County officials should have “a better idea” on the building’s floorplan and expected opening date after the Sept. 18 “kick-off” planning meeting with the architect, whose firm is also designing the new $25 million Oakhurst Community College Center.
“Oakhurst is the heart of eastern Madera County and this new facility is going to be a big benefit for our public,” said Supervisor Tom Wheeler, who hopes to have a second office in the new satellite center, which will house a number of county departments and will allow eastern Madera County residents to pull permits, pay bills and traffic tickets or drop off ballots without having to drive into Madera.
At this week’s board meeting, Wheeler noted that it would have cost the county more than $7 million to purchase and build a similar-sized facility.
The decision to buy an existing building rather than build a new satellite government center was made for practical reasons, according to Supervisor Brett Frasier. “This is just a good way of doing business,” he said after the deal to buy the property was announced.
The decision not to spend county funds on construction of a new facility also helps preserve the county’s Triple A bond rating, said Supervisor David Rogers. “We need to be smart with the people’s money.”
Constructed in 1996, the Junction Drive property features multiple suites and lobbies, which makes it ideal for conversion into a government office complex, according to county officials. The property also includes 81 parking spaces and the building itself already has a very large conference room.
The new government center will not include a courthouse but county officials have had discussions with Superior Court officials about establishing video conferencing capabilities at the new center.
Creation of a new satellite government center in Oakhurst was actually first recommended in the County’s 2008 Capital Improvement Plan. At that time, the cost to build the new facility was estimated at about $5.3 million.