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Hays County ponders government center in Wimberley

Wednesday, June 11, 2008 by Jacob Cottingham

The Hays County Commissioner’s Court on Tuesday got its first glimpse of the much-discussed Wimberley Government Center. The proposed center would be built out by renovating the First Baptist Church in Wimberley.

 

City Administrator Don Ferguson presented the converted church project, which would become a joint governmental center housing the Precinct 3 and Wimberley offices and designed to be a “one-stop shop for taxpayer services.”

 

The acquisition of the church would fit into the stated goal of Hays County to own its own office buildings. The 36,192-square-foot complex at the intersection of FM 3237 and Old Kyle Road includes a sanctuary, office buildings and a recreation center. It is on 6.5 acres of land one-quarter mile from downtown Wimberley.

 

Ferguson’s presentation offered a number of uses for the excess space. He floated the idea of a partnership with the YMCA or Big Brothers Big Sisters for use of the recreational space, and offered the possibility of a coffee shop or bakery onsite as well. He did stress that the remaining office space “would not be a commercial venture” and would focus on serving the taxpayers.

 

Among the public services, the proposal included a tax office, sheriff’s department evidence locker and station, offices for the precinct constable, county extension service, probation department, public health, Wimberley Fire Department, EMS and even a satellite library. Other potential tenants included Pedernales Electric Cooperative, Wimberley Water Supply, Aqua Texas, Texas Parks and Wildlife, Texas Forest Service, Texas Department of Public Safety and even the US Department of Agriculture.

 

Wimberley Crossroads, LLC, currently owns the property, but the congregation will be occupying the buildings until March of 2009. According to Commissioner Pct. 3 Will Conley, the broker is asking $2.4 million for the property and though the phase one inspection did not turn up “any red flags,” renovations would cost between $600,000 and $1 million. However, he said, it would be possible to move in right away, if needed.

 

Conley said the asking price had been $3 million and the appraisal was $2.7 million. He and Ferguson said that the cost of building a brand new facility of 69,000 square feet in downtown Wimberley would be close to that same sum. Currently, Wimberley leases approximately 4,000 square feet for its offices, Hays County leases 2,400 square feet and the Sheriff’s Department occupies donated space at Lions Field. Conley said, “You almost have to live in Wimberley to fully appreciate the synergy of this project.”

 

Hays County Sheriff Allen Bridges said, “In Wimberley we’re hurting… if we could put a ‘Y’ in there and some recreation for the kids that would be great.” He said that the Sheriff’s Department was dealing with a lot of “kids getting into trouble, especially down by the river,” and a presence at the converted church would act as a deterrent to such shenanigans.  The office space, Bridges said, would also be beneficial. “We’d like to move as much personnel over there as possible. An evidence locker in there [would keep] sheriffs from having to drive to San Marcos… we’re using closet spaces for offices here in San Marcos, literally.”

 

Under the proposal, Hays County would supply the initial funds for the project and look at an interlocal agreement with Wimberley for joint ownership and payment terms. Conley said if such an agreement is reached, the county would probably seek a monthly payback schedule with an interest rate commensurate with its own investments so as to not lose money on the deal.

 

Pct. 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton liked the project and said, “I don’t have a problem fronting the money.” However, he cautioned that due to the financial situation, “we are in a difficult position.” Judge Liz Sumter was more direct, citing what she called a “fundamental question, ‘Does the Court want to be in the position of funding the entire project? If in the end, the partnership did dissolve, would you be comfortable with this?”

 

The commissioners declined to take action, and instead deferred a decision until hearing back from two other scheduled public hearings to take place on the project this week.

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