MADERA — Supervisors on Tuesday OK’d spending $1.86 million to purchase an office building in Oakhurst earmarked to become the County’s new satellite government center.
If the deal stays on track, residents of Eastern Madera County’s mountain communities could be breezing in and out of the new facility as soon as this fall to pull permits, pay bills or drop off ballots.
Tuesday’s decision to buy an existing office 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,” Frasier said.
The decision, according to Supervisor David Rogers, helps preserve the county’s Triple A bond rating. “We need to be smart with the people’s money,” Rogers said.
District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler, who will likely have a second office there, called the deal to create the new satellite center “a win-win” and “giant step forward for Madera County.” Wheeler said residents of the mountain communities have been “wanting this for a long time.”
The building, located along Highway 49 at 40232 Junction Drive, is less than one mile from the Madera County sheriff’s substation and Madera County Fire Station 12.
At one time, county officials considered building the Oakhurst satellite government center on a county-owned parcel adjacent to the fire station but decided this week the Junction Drive property made more sense.
The 13,383-square-foot building used to be home to the Oakhurst Medial Group and currently has just two tenants — Maxwell & Lanier Eye Care Center and San Joaquin Valley Rehabilitation Hospital.
The building sits on 1.62 acres on the northwest corner of Highway 49 and Junction Drive and is owned by Saint Agnes Medical Center.
Built in 1996, the building’s design features multiple suites and lobbies, which makes it ideal for conversion into a government office complex, said County CAO Eric Fleming.
Fleming told supervisors on Tuesday “the County was presented with a unique opportunity” to buy the building. The alternative, he added, was spending more than $7 million to build a new satellite center.
Maria Miranda, general services manager for the county, told supervisors this week that the Junction Drive building was a good fit for the county and needs few major modifications before various departments – including building and planning, social services and public health – can start moving in.
There are 81 parking spaces on the property, and the building also has a very large conference room.
The new government center will not include a courthouse but Miranda said the county “is in discussions” with Superior Court officials to establish video conferencing capabilities at the new center.
Creation of a satellite government center in Oakhurst was 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.
The county’s $1.86 million deal with Saint Agnes is scheduled to close escrow June 28. The property is being sold “as is.” County officials say the building is in good repair but plan to have it fully inspected before the close of escrow.
Before the 5-0 vote to approve the deal, Supervisor Wheeler pointed out the Junction Drive building does meet current government safety standards with regard to courthouse security.
“That’s one of the reasons we had to close the old courthouse in Bass Lake,” Wheeler said. “Someone could have driven a car right through the wall and into the judge.”
Wheeler said the new building in Oakhurst is “elevated enough” not to allow a vehicle to ram through through its side.
Miranda said the County has yet to determine the fate of the old Bass Lake courthouse. The last two county building department employees working there will be transferred to the new satellite center after it opens.
Then the county is likely to declare the Bass Lake courthouse “surplus” and begin the process of selling the valuable property. “We plan to get an appraisal soon,” Miranda said.
The Junction Drive building is mostly vacant right now, with only two tenants — Fogg, Maxwell & Lanier Eye Care Center and San Joaquin Valley Rehabilitation Hospital — leasing space.
Fogg, Maxwell & Lanier has 1,535 square feet, with a lease term expiring May 31, 2020. San Joaquin Valley Rehabilitation Hospital occupies approximately 1,029 square feet. Its lease expires Nov. 30, 2019.
According to county officials, both tenants have said they would like to remain in the building after it becomes the new satellite government center.