Government and Real Estate

County buildings valued at nearly a half-billion

March 15, 2013
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County buildings valued at nearly a half-billion
The county's newest downtown holding is the circuit courthouse, opened in 2001. It's also the largest and valued at more than $58 million. Photo by Johnny Quirin

A Business Journal calculation showed Kent County owns 32 buildings that have a market value of $481 million. The structures total 2.4 million square feet of space, occupy 3,715 acres of property, and serve as workplaces for 1,570 county employees.

Those numbers will play a role for members of the county Finance Committee, which also oversees the county’s physical resources, when they continue their review of facilities the county owns next month.

Commissioner Harold Voorhees, who also chairs the committee, is the spark behind the effort, having asked for a compilation of county-owned facilities late last year. County Director of Facilities Management Al Jano complied.

Jano presented the committee with a 165-page report a few weeks ago that not only lists the buildings owned by the county, but also cites properties the county leases and rents and undeveloped properties. The report marks the first time the county has put something like this together.

“There are an awful lot of physical resources the county owns, rents and leases,” said Daryl Delabbio, county administrator and controller.

It’s uncertain how much time it will take for the committee to review everything and what the outcome of the effort will be, but the panel most likely will look at the county’s Fuller Street Complex next.

That 79-acre site on the northeast side of Grand Rapids contains 12 buildings with 967,325 square feet. The largest is the $85.5 million correctional facility, with more than 440,000 square feet. More than 250 county employees work at the complex.

The committee recently began its review by looking at the four buildings owned by the county in downtown Grand Rapids. First up was the three-story, 66,000-square-foot administration building on Calder Plaza. It has a market value of $12.2 million, and 113 employees work there. Jano called the structure, which was built in 1969, a really good building.

“This building does meet our needs and it serves us well. In this building, nothing jumps out at me. There may be some ancillary repairs, but ancillary can mean several hundred thousands of dollars,” said Jano, who added that the building’s windows were replaced, efficient lighting was installed and the elevators were upgraded.

Commissioner Roger Morgan asked if having county administrators on the plaza was the best use for the site, with DeVos Place across Monroe Avenue from it. About a decade ago, an attempt was made to build a hotel and office building on the property.

Jano said he wasn’t certain about the best-use issue, but he offered this realization: “To construct a building of this quality on property like this would be a substantial cost.”

Next was the county’s former Probate Court building across Ottawa Avenue from the administration building. It is now home to the county’s information technology department. The building is valued at $1 million and has 17,107 square feet. The county bought it in 1980. Jano said while the IT department has gotten smaller over the years, the functions its 35 employees perform have grown larger and become more valuable to the county.

The county’s newest downtown holding is the circuit courthouse, built in 2001. It’s also the largest at 341,049 square feet and the most valuable at $58.6 million. About 170 employees work there.

“That really is an iconic building. That facility is now over 10 years old and it’s not showing it,” said Jano. “We cut our (energy) consumption in half after the first year of operation. The building was built to be energy efficient.”

The office structure at 82 Ionia Ave. rounds out the county’s downtown properties and is the most recent addition. Kent bought the four-story, 153,339-square-foot structure in 2005 after renting space in it for seven years. It’s valued at $7.3 million and is a worksite for 234 county employees.

“It was a nice pick-up downtown. We missed out on the first time it was up for sale,” said Morgan.

The county’s Veterans Affairs Department is at 82 Ionia, which is a secured building that also includes the prosecutor’s office, the circuit court probation division, and a drug-testing program operated by the 61st District Court. The Kent County Land Bank Authority recently moved from there to a suite at the Waters Building because of the crowded hallways and tight security at 82 Ionia.

Commissioner Shana Shroll said it’s also often difficult for disabled veterans to reach the vets office and she wondered if access to the building could be made easier for them.

“I don’t have an answer off the top of my head, but we’ll certainly look into it and see if there is a way we can accommodate them,” said Jano.

The county also leases out space in the building, but Jano reminded the committee that the county isn’t in the business of owning and leasing buildings.

In addition to the buildings the county owns, it also rents 29,924 square feet at five sites and owns about 56 undeveloped acres on a handful of properties, including 40 acres on Fun Street in Vergennes Township that it leases to Lowell Area Schools for its forestry program.

“We’re in pretty good shape compared to 2003,” said Jano, referring to the last time the county did a space-needs study.

Here is a breakdown by general location of facilities Kent County owns:

Note: Sparta, Kent City, Gowen, Byron Township and Rockford comprise the outlying areas.
Location

Number of Buildings

Value in Millions Total Acres Total Square Footage Number of Employees
Downtown 4 $82 4 577,495 553
Fuller St. Complex 12 $127 79 967,325 682
Grand Rapids 8 $193 236 569,014 191
Airport 3 $75 3,307 324,705 132
Outlying Areas 5 $4 89 1,751 12
Total 32 $481 3,715 2,440,290 1,570

Source: 2013 Facilities Overview, Kent County Facilities Management Department, March 2013.

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