Co. leaders give 1st OK to buying Omnova building

CHESTER -- Chester County leaders decided Monday night to borrow $1.4 million to buy a building where they plan to house numerous departments, the council chambers and the county supervisor's office.

The move would shift nearly all the county's offices out of downtown Chester to a 29,580-square-foot-faclity at 1476 J.A. Cochran By-Pass that is currently owned by Omnova Solutions.

Citing concerns about limited office space, county leaders said the Omnova facility will ease their growing pains and allow residents to handle lots of business in one place.

"One-stop shopping," is how County Supervisor Carlisle Roddey described the service that could be offered if the offices are moved to the facility.

Leaders plan to move all the departments housed in the Chester County Courthouse to the building, with the exception of the clerk of court's office.

In turn, the solicitor's office and possibly magistrate's court would be moved to the courthouse, creating what Roddey called a "judicial center."

Leaders have been talking with Omnova since January about the property and reached a middle-ground price of $1.4 million for the building and $50,000 for its contents, Roddey said.

"I think it probably will be one of the best things we've ever done," he said. "This is something that'll be good for Chester County for the next 40, 50 years."

Details of bonds not finalized

The county plans to pay for the building through general obligation bonds. That process will eventually result in a tax, but Roddey said such details, along with the bond rates, have not been sorted out.

The County Council took its first vote on borrowing up to $3 million Monday, with the leftover funds going toward such items such as police cars and computers.

Two more votes and a public hearing are required for the transaction to go through. Monday night's vote was unanimous. A public hearing is scheduled for July 16. Leaders hope employees can begin moving into the building by October.

The facility, which was once a school, sits on about 7 1/2 acres, contains 60 offices and boasts 122 parking spaces. The company is selling the building because it's not using the facility much anymore, Roddey said. He said about a dozen people are still working there and will be transferred to a nearby office.

As for how the project started, Roddey said much of the credit goes to the council's clerk, Carolyn Clayton-Snipes, who worked for Omnova for years and shared the idea of moving the offices with Roddey.

"We have to give her an atta-girl," he said. "She took me to it."

During the meeting, Councilman Alex Oliphant said he had some "mixed emotions" about the move because his "heart's downtown" and he would prefer to see a building be built behind the courthouse.

However, he said, building such a facility would cost millions more than buying the Omnova property, which leaders say needs minimal upgrades.

"It's ready to go," Oliphant said.

Councilman Joe Branham said the chance to buy the property is too good to pass up.

"For us to miss this opportunity," Branham said, "I think would be a tremendous blow."