CORNELIA – Representatives of the Habersham Chamber of Commerce and others joined Cornelia city leaders Tuesday for the celebratory groundbreaking for the city’s new Municipal Complex on South Main Street.
During his introduction of Cornelia Ward 3 Commissioner Don Bagwell, Mayor J.C. Irby mentioned looking to the city’s future.
“The future is a great word to use, because the facilities that we have now all belong to the past,” Bagwell said “In fact, most of them were not even built to be what we’ve sort of adapted them for use. The good thing about the new structure is it will allow us to integrate all the different departments together efficiently to communicate and reduce, or at least control, the cost of government so that we’re not constantly having to spend money foolishly trying to get people to talk to each other.”
The two-building complex will be constructed between Foreacre Street and Wyly Street, on either side of Ariail Tire.
Bagwell also pointed out other focuses of the new complex, which will include a city hall/police station and a fire department headquarters station.
“I think a big one is to give citizens access to a facility that they can come and go out of conveniently and access the services that they need,” Bagwell said. “After all, government is supposed to work for all of us that pay taxes and we want it to work as efficiently as possible.”
Bagwell said the aesthetics of the new structures will enhance the downtown area and the city as a whole.
“I guess the least important to some people, but important to me, is I wanted us to wind up with a facility that we could really be proud to look at, that would really be the core of this town that we love so much, and that would be something that we could really love and appreciate and take pride in,” Bagwell said.
Important to city officials is that the bid came in under budget and significantly less than the initial cost estimate for the project.
“We can’t talk about this without addressing costs, and I think the fact that we started out budgeting about a $12-million project and, through some efficiency between the engineers and the designers, we whittled that down to about $10 [million], and then wound up with a bid on the project from a very reputable company that’s done a lot of this kind of work at around $8 [million] so we’ve been hopefully really responsible with taxpayer money,” Bagwell said.
Jericho Design Group serve as project architects, while Cooper & Company General Contractors will handle construction.
Within about a month, demolition will begin on the current Cornelia Municipal Building, which also houses as the fire station. Firefighters already essentially have moved most operations to the North Station at the Big Lots shopping center.
“The fire department is moving,” Anderson said. “They’ve actually pretty much already moved offices out to our North Station during construction, because obviously the fire station will have to come down to build the new [city hall/police] building. Currently, we have one firefighter assigned here still 24 hours, but based on the contractor’s proposed schedule, it looks like April 5 will probably be the last day that we’ll have anybody here.”
That doesn’t mean the central and southern parts of the city and its neighborhoods won’t have fire and rescue coverage but might mean it doesn’t arrive quite as quickly at times.
“All of our operations will be run out of the North Station for however long it takes to build the fire station, which obviously leaves this side of town with a slower response, but we have a great relationship with Baldwin so if we get into something they’re going to be right here anyway,” Anderson said.
The Municipal Building also houses an upstairs courtroom currently used for both city court and city commission meetings, but those functions will relocate in a couple of weeks.
“It looks like, as far as city court, the last court in March will be the last court date there, and our April 2 city commission meeting will be the last city commission meeting, so I don’t know if there are any emotional people out there that have memories of that courtroom, but if they want to come to that April 2 meeting and kind of take of take one last look around, I would encourage it because I think April 16 they’re planning on starting to put it on the ground, so it’s going.”
During the construction period, both Cornelia City Court and Cornelia City Commission meetings will be held at the Community House, 601 Wyly St., Anderson said.
Other city facilities on Larkin Street will continue to operate during construction of the Municipal Complex.
“The good thing is we worked it out with the plans that we don’t have to vacate city hall or the police station until the project is done,” City Manager Donald Anderson said. “It’s going to be tight because the wall of the new building will probably be five feet off the wall of the existing buildings, but at least we don’t have to worry about relocating that, because then we would have gotten into renting office space, fiber, phones, everything having to move.”