Too little or too much: Cape Girardeau, county evaluate buildings to address space issues

Sunday, July 8, 2012
Cape Girardeau city manager Scott Meyer shows a utility room at city hall that is being used to store documents. Both city and county governments are examining space issues. (Fred Lynch)

As a permit technician for the city of Cape Girardeau, Dianna Barnes knows what it means to need more room.

Tucked away in an office in the top floor of city hall, the tables behind the 18-year city employee's desk are stacked with boxes and boxes full of engineering documents. An area next to where she works has a half-dozen or so rolled-up commercial building plans awaiting storage.

When Barnes steps out into the nearby hall to make duplicates, she uses a makeshift copy room that divides the hall with glass walls because no other rooms are available for fax machines and copiers. Some of her city government colleagues are forced to cram three or four to an office.

The other workers in the development services department all share one counter space.

"Sometimes, if we have a number of contractors looking at plans or looking at sewer locations, that gets a little hectic," Barnes said last week. "It hasn't always been this way. Over the years, we have gotten more permanent records that we have to keep. Because of all the building in the city of Cape, we've had to keep more and more records. The storage issues over the years have gotten worse."

The space problem has gotten so bad that records can no longer be kept only at city hall. Some are kept at the Convention and Visitors Bureau. Others are stored in the relatively new fire station near Blanchard Elementary School.

Both the city and Cape Girardeau County government officials are taking close looks at their buildings. City officials are struggling with space issues for two of their municipally owned buildings and the county is dealing with the opposite problem -- having too many buildings that are adding to the bottom line.

With city hall, a lack of space is only a part of the problem with the building that was built in 1937 and served as the old Lorimier school until 1975. It's not fully accessible to the disabled. Pipes are aging. The heating and air-conditioning system is fading fast. The chimney has structural problems.

Still, city manager Scott Meyer said he would not use the word "desperate," especially with so many other needs before the city.

"But certainly, we have areas that need addressing," Meyer said. "We have some cramped quarters and storage issues. Certainly we've had to cobble together some conference rooms and put some more people in fewer offices. But we're not double-stacked or anything. It's just really tight and we lack for meeting spaces and things like that."

At the county government level, the Cape Girardeau County Commission recently hired an architect to look at its seven county government buildings -- two courthouses, an administrative building, sheriff's department and other ancillary offices in both Cape Girardeau and Jackson.

With the county, however, it's not an issue of not having enough space, Presiding Commissioner Clint Tracy said. They almost have too much. The county has decided to hire an architecture firm to look at all those facilities and offer suggestions on how to downsize to help cut back on what are perhaps unnecessary overhead costs for all of those facilities.

"We've got plenty of space," Tracy said. "It's adequate. We've got enough room for everyone. The question is, are we maximizing that space and using it most efficiently and where can we make improvements?"

'Minimize our footprint'

The bills for so many buildings add up, he said.

"That's seven roofs, that's seven light bills, that's seven phone bills," Tracy said. "I think our equation is more about how we can minimize our footprint so we could lower our overhead. That would be my goal."

The most talked about suggestion is consolidating courthouses in Cape Girardeau and Jackson into one courthouse in Jackson. The Common Pleas Courthouse is more than 150 years old and is plagued annually by heating and cooling problems. The courthouse in Jackson has had problems with a lack of security measures and last year suffered a termite problem. Both are more than 100 years old. Other county offices are housed in the Common Pleas annex. County commissioners have suggested that housing all of these in one centrally located new courthouse could be cheaper than patching the older courthouses up as their conditions deteriorate.

But the county is looking at all of its buildings to see if there are savings to be had through consolidation, Tracy said. The buildings will be evaluated, funding mechanisms will be considered and any decisions probably won't be made for some time, he said.

"I think it would be prudent to look at everywhere the county operates as far as personnel and where all our people are and how we can better deliver service," Tracy said.

Report next month

At the city level, an architect with the city's Development Services Department is assessing all the city-owned facilities, concentrating on conditions, space needs and safety, Meyer said. The report is expected to be completed next month, Meyer said, although he said he would not share the report's findings until after the information could be shared with the Cape Girardeau City Council.

But the only two municipal buildings where there is a space shortage, he said, are city hall at 401 Independence St. and the Cape Girardeau Police Department at 40 S. Sprigg St. Both have been listed on the city's capital improvement program as unfunded for years, even as the city made high-dollar upgrades to other buildings.

The report will help them determine whether they want to try to build a new city hall or remodel and expand the existing facilities, he said. Some immediate problems, he said, is that energy use is high at city hall and the building will soon need a new heating and air-conditioning system.

If the council decides it wants a new city hall, those types of investments may not have to be made, Meyer said. When Meyer worked with the Missouri Department of Transportation in Sikeston, Mo., he said, the state sold the existing building and property and bought land on the outskirts of town that came with a lower price tag. That meant the new building was paid for with proceeds of that sale.

"That may be an option," Meyer said. "But whether that model would work here or not, I don't know. But that's the reason we need the information from the report so we can get our hands around this whole thing and say, 'What's our plan?'"

The space needs at the police department are well documented. Police chief Carl Kinnison, who announced his retirement last week, again used the platform to talk about the need for a new or expanded department that currently uses a trailer for additional office space.

Meyer agreed that space needs at the department may be a factor as he searches for Kinnison's replacement.

"The better facilities you have, that's a nice attraction for people," Meyer said. "So for some [candidates], maybe it will say the police department isn't as important. Certainly, I don't think that's the case and that hasn't been the case. But it might be a factor. But for the most part, I think people understand government. If you look at our facilities holistically, I think most of our facilities are in good shape.

"It's like snow removal -- somebody's going to be first and somebody's going to be last."


Pertinent address:

401 Independence St., Cape Girardeau, MO

40 S. Sprigg St., Cape Girardeau, MO

44 N. Lorimier St., Cape Girardeau, MO

100 Court St., Jackson, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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