Towers building discussed

STEUBENVILLE – Jefferson County commissioners on Thursday didn’t give a thumbs up or down to the possible purchase of the Towers building on Market Street but did present arguments on how buying the building would be beneficial.

Dr. Frank Petrola of Tower Realty Inc. accepted the county’s offer to buy the building for $750,000 and four adjacent parking lots for $100,000.

The county spends $83,000 a year for county regional planning and health department inside the building. Commissioners also said the county spends $18,315 a year for parking in the downtown area for county employees.

Commissioners said they want to tear down the Courthouse Annex and make public parking and move the county veterans service commission out of an old building on North Street.

Commissioners plan on financing the demolition of the annex building and construction of a parking lot and the purchase of the Towers into one loan. Commissioners said the annual rent and parking space expenses alone could pay for the cost over a 10-year period.

County Commissioner Thomas Graham said the annex building needs $60,000 in repairs. County Commissioner Tom Gentile said handicap access to the veterans service commission is difficult. He said the gas bill alone for the veterans services commission building last month was $1,000.

Gentile said the public has a hard time finding parking spaces around the courthouse, especially people wanting to vote early in elections at the board of elections.

Graham said the commissioners want to make a one-stop building for people using county services.

Gentile said the cost of buying the Towers building is $10 a square foot. He said new construction starts around $200 per square foot.

Commissioners did note the Towers building will need work on the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.

The Towers building was purchased 19 years ago by Petrola for $650,000. Graham said a committee appointed by the commissioners studied the possible purchase for a year and concluded it would be a good investment. The committee told the commissioners to offer between $700,000 and $900,000. Petrola’s first offer was $1.7 million, but the two sides negotiated the price down to $750,000, Graham said.

Private-sector tenants at the Towers could remain, and the county is allowed to collect rent, Graham said according to an opinion from county prosecutor’s office. He said the prosecutor’s office also will provide a written opinion on the step-by-step process for the purchase.

There is a computer room in the basement of the Towers, which Gentile said would be an ideal location for an off-site backup computer for the courthouse’s computer network system.

County Commissioner David Maple said he needs a week to make sure the purchase is a wise investment. He said there will be maintenance and insurance costs that must be weighed with the economic benefits.

“We need to take a hard look at it before we make a decision,” he said.

Gentile said the commissioners want to release the financial background on the purchase to the public before a vote by the board is conducted,

Graham said there will be some who are against the purchase, but he believes the rewards outweigh the cost.

Maple added there are a lot of inefficiencies with government offices being housed at different locations. He wants to know if the offices located in one building would benefit the taxpayers from an efficiency standpoint.

Gentile noted the county port authority will be contacted to offer help in pointing prospective tenants toward the Towers.

Commissioners also approved paying $10,425 to purchase a granite inscription stone, with stone cap, for the veterans monument at Friendship Park. The Jefferson County Veterans Association has been building the monument, which will include bricks with the names of veterans. The commissioners already have spent $9,000 on the project.

Bill Smythe, county veterans association commander, said the project is about half finished. Additional bricks with veterans’ names are still being sold, and the group wants to put lighting around the monument.

Commissioners also:

Agreed to advertise for the hiring of a wastewater maintenance worker for the county water and sewer department to fill increasing work demands with the Pottery Addition and Crestview-Belvedere sewer projects.

Accepted the resignation of Mike Menzel from the county airport authority because of potential conflicts of interest in business that may arise from Menzel’s aircraft business at the airport. The commissioners tabled a request from the airport authority for a replacement.

Opened bids for the county engineer’s department for aggregates and bituminous asphalt products for the summer construction season.

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