Local News

Sheriff's quarters on commission agenda

SEBRING - Only two items appear on today's county commission agenda: a public hearing on the boundaries of West Sebring Fire Department's district, and a workshop on how the Highlands County Commissioners should provide a new building for the sheriff's office.

Amending the fire district is necessary for assessments to be levied on homes and lots, County Administrator June Fisher told commissioners on the cover page of the agenda item. The fire district recently took over Sun 'N Lake after supervisors in the improvement district dismissed paid personnel and contracted West Sebring's volunteers.

The fire district is funded with contributions and assessments.

Assistant County Administrator Randy Vosburg, who was the Polk County Sheriff's Office director of professional compliance, will lead a discussion about Sheriff Susan Benton's office needs: internal and external security, technology and connectivity, 24/7 operations, showers and locker rooms, laboratory space, a backup power source, and facility that will weather a major hurricane.

There are three sites: the current Sebring city hall, which the county could buy; the Kenilworth office building, which the county already owns; and George Boulevard, a county-owned block where the sheriff's office was designated to go before the recession.

The county could also construct a two-story, 41,740-square-foot building that includes crime scene investigations and the property and evidence department, for $8.8 million at Palmetto Avenue. The county already owns most of the land, and could buy the rest for about $150,000.

An alternative is to put P&E elsewhere and build a 34,940 square-foot building for $7.5 million.

The county could also purchase city hall for about $1.25 million and construct a new building kitty-corner from Highlands County Jail for $10 million. An alternative without property and evidence would cost $8.67 million.

The county already has a civic center, parks, road and bridge, and veteran's departments on George Boulevard. A sheriff's office could be squeezed between a retention pond and the health department. Cost for a two-story building without P&E and CSI: $8.15 million. With both: $9.5 million.

Highlands County paid $1.235 million for 16,000 square feet of an office building in February 2008 that County Engineer Ramon Gavarrete called a mini-warehouse.

In July 2010, the county paid another $182,641 for an additional 2,000 square feet that was occupied by Arise Ministries. There's enough space left for P&E and CSI and a two-story building. Cost: $8.7 million. A two-story building without P&E and CSI: $7.4 million.

County commissioners have long talked about reusing other buildings: Liberty Star Plaza, Suntrust Bank, Bank of America and Restoration Church.

Seventy deputies and office staff are currently at Liberty Star. The George Boulevard office building could be purchased for $2.5 million, but expansion possibilities are limited, Vosburg's report noted.

Suntrust, on West Center Avenue in downtown Sebring, already has a chiller plant and would cost $1.6 million. However, it would need a new parking lot and roof, interior demolition and mechanical upgrades, and expansion is limited. There is no room for P&E and CSI.

The price for Bank of America on South Ridgewood has dropped to $500,000. At 33,621 square feet, it's 5,000 square feet smaller than Suntrust, and has the same drawbacks.

Restoration Church on Sparta Road is advertised at $1.6 million and could be purchased for as low as $1 million. However, it's 2,000 square feet smaller than Bank of America. It does come with 43 acres, though, and has immediate access to State Road 66, U.S. 98 and U.S. 27.

Drawbacks: 10,000 square-foot church auditorium is not useful for a sheriff's office, so the interior would have to be demolished. The high ceiling of the auditorium can accommodate a second floor, but that would be costly.