Originally created 06/17/04

School offices head downtown



Downtown Augusta is welcoming some new faces.

The Richmond County Board of Education began its move Wednesday into the four-story headquarters on Broad Street, even as construction continues on the two bottom floors and the exterior. About 200 employees from 37 departments are expected to fill the renovated building that was once a Davison's department store and an H.L. Green's variety store.

Only boxes, file cabinets and some furniture were moved Wednesday, but employees should began working on the top two floors by Monday, said David Arnold, the district's purchasing director who is spearheading the move.

Superintendent Charles Larke told board members he is saving money by having staff make the move with the help of temporary laborers.

Mr. Arnold said the district is accustomed to moving because it must relocate schools during renovations and transport furniture to new buildings.

"It's very similar to opening a new school. That's why we feel we could do it in-house," he said.

The central office staff on Heckle Street will be the first to move into the new building, marking the beginning of a phased-in process to be complete by September, spokeswoman Mechelle Jordan said.

In September, school officials expect to dedicate the building and hold their first board meeting in the new boardroom.

Dr. Larke said the new 151,200-square-foot facility will reduce the system's travel budget because departments will no longer be spread throughout the county. Also, the boardroom will seat 275 people, many more than the current one.

The downtown offices originally were set to open in December. That was later changed to February, and now officials are looking at September.

The delay has been blamed on construction site flooding, water table problems and structural concerns. Even with the opening of the third and fourth floors, the contractors will continue working on the building through September as they put the finishing touches on the $11 million project.

The cost has ballooned by more than a million dollars because of the added problems. The basement required waterproofing and a roof deck needed to be replaced.

Such contingency costs are always anticipated in renovations, said project director Jeff Baker, of Hanscomb/GMK.

The new headquarters' construction is funded by special purpose local option sales tax revenue, and Mr. Arnold said the office should provide a boost for business in downtown Augusta.

"It's going to be a shot in the arm for Broad Street," he said.

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (706) 828-3851 or greg.rickabaugh@augustachronicle.com.