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story.lead_photo.caption County employees Tuesday begin dirt work on a new parking lot set to be laid at the entry of the former West Side Elementary school at 101 Boundary Street in Magnolia. The site was purchased from the local public school district in 2017 by the county as new home for its offices currently occupying in the downtown Annex Building. The project is scheduled to be completed by year’s end. - Photo by J.D. Bailey / J.D. Bailey

Columbia County’s project to relocate its downtown Annex services has officially begun construction.

Although the asbestos abatement process began earlier this year, the primary gutting and refurbishing of the former West Side Elementary complex kicked off in July after a final bid from Coker Building Company of Texarkana for $908,116 was approved by the Columbia County Quorum Court.

Since that time, interior progress has been made in terms of clearing and prepping the building for work. And on Monday, the court approved an additional $18,000 expenditure to clean, seal, and paint the building’s exterior, bringing the project’s total cost to $926,116.

By state law, however, the county can only appropriate 90 percent of that amount for actual spending, making only $828,000 available for the build, according to Monday’s unanimously passed ordinance. All of the project’s costs are financed directly through the County General Building Fund thus equating to no borrowed monies or bond measures required.

In the build, the 15-acre Boundary Street former school, which the county in 2017 purchased from Magnolia School District for $253,500, is set to be fully refurbished for housing the Columbia County Assessor, Tax Collector, and Auditor offices. All of those departments currently occupy the downtown Magnolia Annex Building.

A larger layout plan which included new constriction adjacent to the now standing buildings was initially intended at West Side but the Quorum Court in January shelved the estimated $2.4 million option due to budgetary precautions. The site was proposed as a two-phase, “pay-as-you-go” approach since the county did not possess all of the estimated funds at the time.

The more expensive, more expansive plan would have seen new structures built which included a quorum court chamber, new voting areas, and offices for the County Judge, County Clerk, and state revenue office, to go along with the $908,000 remodel job now underway.

The secondary phase could still take place down the road, said County Judge Larry Atkinson on Tuesday, but, for the time being, only the current, non-courthouse county offices on the Magnolia Square are affected.

The Boundary Street complex — now called Westside Annex by county officials — is expected to be completed by year’s end. The construction bid has a final date of Dec. 21, 2018.

When touring a primary former school building on Tuesday, the project was in the infant stages of the remodel but entire sections of concrete floors had been chiseled away for access to subterranean electrical work. New wall studs had also been set in place to divide the larger former student areas. The studs will eventually be covered with sheetrock but much of the cinder block walls will remain exposed, with new paint, on-scene workers stated.

At the property’s front, dirt work was underway by county employees in preparation for an all-new parking lot to stretch to the building’s entry. The new lot will eliminate the large, grass barrier and courtyard that now occupy the zone.

“It’s going to look totally different when we’re finished,” said one construction worker Tuesday.

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