New Richmond County sheriff's office to be built

Commission votes 6-4 to approve Walton Way site

Despite efforts by several south Augusta commissioners to steer it toward a former furniture store on Gordon Highway, the Richmond County Sheriff's Office's new administration building will go up on city-owned property at Walton Way and Fourth Street.

 

The Augusta Commission voted 6-4, with Commissioners Don Grantham, J.R. Hatney, Bill Lockett and Jimmy Smith dissenting, to build on what now is a parking lot for the existing jail and administration building at 401 Walton Way.

That building, rife with leaks and mold, will be razed and the inmates transferred to the Charlie B. Webster Detention Center on Phinizy Road.

After an 18-month search, City Administrator Fred Russell and Sheriff Ronnie Strength narrowed the choices to two, and "both sites work," Russell said in a presentation to commissioners Tuesday. Strength said "we can adjust to either site."

However, when pressed to pick one, Russell and Strength went with the Walton Way site, largely because of its proximity to the new judicial center.

Commissioners J.R. Hatney and Jimmy Smith disagreed, saying putting the department's offices in the former Smartway building in Southgate Shopping Center would be a boon for south Augusta.

"We need more police presence than we have," Hatney said.

"That area out there has suffered," Smith said.

Remodeling Smartway would have taken less time -- 212 days -- than building a new facility, which is expected to take 365 days, the sheriff said. Moving personnel into the strip mall building would take about a year, as opposed to two years for a new building.

The project will be funded with $9 million in special purpose local option sales tax funds, Russell said, and the total cost for each site was roughly the same -- $9.16 million for Smartway and $9.09 million for a new building.

Several commissioners, however, disputed those estimates by Heery International, the project manager for sales tax projects.

E.G. Meybohm, who wanted to sell the Smartway building to the city, contended that the total cost there, including remodeling and asbestos removal, would be about $5 million, according to Smith.

Commissioner Joe Bowles questioned the agreed-to sale price, however, pointing out that the last time it changed hands it was for $792,000.

"Why in the world would we even entertain $1.8 million to buy that?" Bowles said. "Sounds like somebody's making a hefty profit."

Staff Writer Johnny Edwards contributed to this article.

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