County eyes expansion, not move

Expansion may take place on the backside of the building, which faces White River in downtown Noblesville.

Expansion may take place on the backside of the building, which faces White River in downtown Noblesville.

Hamilton County officials have come to a consensus on an option to deal with the space issue at the Hamilton County Government & Judicial Center in downtown Noblesville – expand.

“I’m very pleased with their decision to keep their workers downtown,” Noblesville Mayor John Ditslear said.

Mike Howard, attorney for Hamilton County and Noblesville, said the plan is expand 35 to 40 feet out from the existing building to the west (toward White River).

“The goal is to expand the building as originally planned,” he said. “Architecturally it will be the same.”

Commissioner Mark Heirbrandt said four options were presented for the commissioners to consider including purchasing an existing building; a public-private venture located in downtown Noblesville; and moving out to the county-owned land around the Hamilton County Health Dept. off Ind. 37.

“We discussed what options were and what would be the best long term,” he said. “Staying in Noblesville would be best for everyone.”

Heirbrandt said the county is working with Noblesville so “everyone’s on the same page.” The expansion would take into account the Riverwalk, Hamilton County Fallen Firefighters Memorial and a pedestrian bridge the city expects to construct with its new park across White River.

“We want to work with the city as we start to develop and plan to get a collaborative effort,” Heirbrandt said.

The 21-year-old building houses Hamilton County courts and several other county offices including the prosecutor, clerk, surveyor and planning department. The county treasurer, auditor, recorder and most of the assessor’s staff works in the historic courthouse across Eighth Street, which is connected to the Judicial Center via an underground tunnel.

“There are office inefficiencies with employees working on different floors. It’s not a conducive work environment,” Heirbrandt said, adding space is at a premium at the Judicial Center and officials expect to add another judge or magistrate to ease the courts’ heavy caseload.

“Hamilton County is the third fastest growing county in the country. We have to serve the people and with that comes a growth in staff.”

Heirbrandt said the county is currently staking out the option – literally. Stakes have been placed on the back side of the Judicial Center to provide officials with a conceptual idea of the size of an expansion as they try to figure out the scope of the project—and how to pay for it.

“We’re a long time away (from a decision). There are a lot of discussions that still have to take place – both technically and financially,” Heirbrandt said. “We don’t have a timeline. We’re going to take it slow and get a lot of input.”

State law requires a taxpayer referendum to authorize capital projects that exceed $12 million. Heirbrandt said one option to avoid a referendum is to complete one level and “shell in” the other floors and wait to finish the interior at another time.

Earlier this fall, the Hamilton County Council approved four general obligation bonds (each under the $12 million limit) to be sold to fund $47 million in projects. The bonds replace decades-old debt that will be repaid by next year – keeping the county’s tax rate stable. A fifth bond, earmarked $11.5 million for the office expansion, was tabled by the council at the request of the three commissioners until their proposal was finalized.

Howard said plans will be made next year and financing options will be made at the end of 2014.