Alpena commissioners ponder building sale

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz The former Michigan Department of Health and Human Services office building sits empty and unused on Sunday. The state department moved to a new facility earlier this year and Alpena County, which owns the facility, is deciding what to do with the building.

ALPENA — The number of buildings Alpena County owns creates a drag on its annual budget due to maintenance and repairs.

Now, the board of commissioners could be considering selling the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services building which it owns, but recently became vacant after the state department moved into a new facility.

The county received a proposal from an unnamed developer who seeks to buy the building, but little is known about the deal, or the developer’s plan for the facility that is located behind the county’s annex building. The proposal could spur the county to issue a request for proposal to see if there is more interest in the office building. The matter was discussed in closed session during the Facilities, Capital & Strategic Planning Committee Wednesday and issuing a RFP could be discussed further at the full board of commissioners meeting Tuesday.

Commissioner John Kozlowski, who sits on the planning committee, said the longer the building sits unused, the more money it costs the county because it still must be heated. He said funding someone to lease it long term is also an option, but as of now, he leans toward the county keeping it and eventually moving county operations currently done at the courthouse across the street. He said the courthouse needs major renovations to allow for people with disabilities access the courtroom upstairs, and plans to add an addition to the courthouse would be more costly that utilizing the former DHHS building.

“If we sold it, we wouldn’t have to pay for it, but I’m not in favor of selling it,” Kozlowski said. “It needs quite a bit of renovations for us to be able to utilize it, but we have big problems with the courthouse and I don’t want to see a multi-million extension of it when we can spend less and move across the street.”

Kozlowski said he could support a short-term lease while the county finalizes a plan on what to do with the facility next.

The DHHS building is only one facility that the county owns and is financially responsible for. It also owns the fairgrounds, Plaza Pool, Northern Lights Arena, health department, as well as the courthouse and annex buildings. The county is seeking to have a facility study done that will reveal more about the condition of the facilities and what their ideal uses are.

In 2013, the county had widespread energy improvements done to the facilities. The county hired Massachusetts based Ameresco Inc., an energy efficiency and renewable energy company for $1.5 million to help lower utility costs and update things like boilers, lights, water heaters, and HVAC. The county took on bond debt to do the project and each facility is responsible for paying its portion of the bond payment, which hampers their budgets, especially the pool and the arena.

Kozlowski said he was unsure if any work was done to the DHHS facility by AMERESCO.

Steve Schulwitz can be reached at 989-358-5689 at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ss_alpenanews.com.


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