Missing from York County bond vote: 2 government centers

The Rock Hill school district office on Anderson Road in Rock Hill. York County leaders envision a new government center here, though the plan is not part of an upcoming bond referendum package.
The Rock Hill school district office on Anderson Road in Rock Hill. York County leaders envision a new government center here, though the plan is not part of an upcoming bond referendum package. aburriss@heraldonline.com

Voters will have the final say on almost $90 million worth of building projects in York County when they head to the polls later this year, but two of the most high profile projects considered by the county in recent months won’t be on the ballot.

A list of construction and renovation proposals was approved by the York County Council on Monday for a November referendum, but the county won’t be spending bond money on the twin new complexes dubbed “Government Center East” in Rock Hill and “Government Center West” in York.

A county-appointed facilities committee recommended both projects be included in a fall referendum on the county’s building needs, but county officials opted to fund more immediate needs while looking to fund the other two centers some other way.

“For those facilities, we feel we have the ability to do them without including them in the bond referendum,” said York County Manager Bill Shanahan. “These (items on the referendum) we wanted to prioritize, but those we can do in house.”

Instead of deciding the fate of the two government centers, voters in November will have the opportunity to approve spending $89,770,000 on other projects, including a new family court building on Heckle Boulevard in Rock Hill, along with other renovations to the county office complex; renovations to the Moss Justice Center in York, including new court and sheriff’s office space; a new recycling center; and improvements to facilities for the Clover and Fort Mill magistrates’ offices.

The approved list of projects is mainly focused on existing needs and may have a better chance of winning voter approval withoutnew buildings being added to the mix.

To the west

The western government center will be a new building housing the county’s main administrative offices and the new county council chambers, replacing the 60-year-old Agricultural Building on South Congress Street in York. An eastern government center would include a booking center for all arrests made on the eastern side of the county, plus courtroom facilities and other office spaces.

Shanahan said the county is examining other options to fund those buildings, including “internal bonding” that the county council could approve without going through a public referendum.

Consultants for Cumming Construction Management estimated construction of the new administration building on a site adjacent to the Ag Building in downtown York would cost $24.3 million. They determined an alternate site on Arrow Road near Alexander Love Highway on the east side of York would be slightly cheaper at $22.9 million, but after lobbying by York city officials and business leaders, the county council voted 5-2 in March to keep the site downtown.

Cumming is currently completing an environmental study of the site, now mainly a parking lot for county offices. The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control has an ongoing mitigation effort to treat gasoline runoff in the site’s groundwater, while foundation testing by the construction firm uncovered debris believed to be from a former dry cleaning service on the site.

“To find out what we’re dealing with, we dug several pits around the site to test them,” said Cumming’s James Britton.

The testing ultimately didn’t turn up any hazardous materials. The debris was mostly masonry and other building materials from a previous structure, and Britton hopes to have a final report ready to submit to the county soon. The project will move forward once the funding source is set.

“The county council has made an educated decision on where to locate the building,” he said. “Now, we’re just trying to uncover any pink elephants.”

York Mayor Eddie Lee, who advocated for a downtown site, said he’s been in touch with Cumming and its engineers about the ongoing renovations to the county courthouse on the same block. He still expects work on the new building to go forward soon, and even suggests the county could dip into its contingency funds if necessary to complete the project.

“I think everyone in the county realizes the county council made a commitment to that site, clearly and publicly,” Lee said, “and I think they’ll honor that.”

To the east

On the east side of the county, Sheriff Bruce Bryant wants to move forward with a booking facility somewhere near Interstate 77 that could temporarily house inmates arrested in the heavily populated area rather than having deputies take the time to transport them to York’s Moss Justice Center.

Consultants earlier estimated building a new facility on the current site of the Rock Hill school district offices on Anderson Road would cost between $11.8 million and $42 million, depending on how many offices and functions move into the new building.

If the county can’t purchase that site, Bryant said he’d like to see a facility built someone near the Celanese Road/Cherry Road interchange with I-77 to make the center easy to reach along the east side’s main traffic routes. The sheriff plans to meet soon with Shanahan and the police departments of Rock Hill and Fort Mill, which would shift their jail functions to the new center.

“Mr. Shanahan assured me the county still intends to go in that direction,” Bryant said. “We’re in the process of looking at the best options.”

Bristow Marchant •  803-329-4062