Flagler County will attempt to buy a parcel of land off Commerce Parkway in Bunnell and use it as a site for a future library branch, while using a parcel the county owns across the street for a new Sheriff's Operations Center, County Commissioners decided during a May 18 commission meeting.
"I just think the time has come to make a decision. We can't keep kicking this down the street."
— DAVID SULLIVAN, Flagler County Commission chairman
That represents a change in plans from the previous month, when the commissioners expected to place both buildings on the same county-owned parcel of land and weren't aware of an option to buy the other parcel.
Commission Chairman David Sullivan had requested that the matter be placed on the commission's May 18 agenda for a final decision.
"The Sheriff's Operations Center is the highest priority that we have right now," Sullivan said. "... I just think the time has come to make a decision. We can't keep kicking this down the street. We're going to get in the middle of an election, we may have new commissioners, and so on and so forth. I think all of us here have been involved in this, and I think it's time to move on, and we have to do something to change the decision we made on April 6, when we said both buildings would go on the library site."
Placing the two buildings on separate, facing parcels would give each more room to expand. The First Baptist Church of Bunnell owns the parcel the county hopes to acquire, and the two parties are negotiating.
"Those discussions look very positive at the moment; we have a letter of intent," County Administrator Jerry Cameron told commissioners during the meeting.
But if the county were to wait until the closing to begin the design process for the two buildings, he said, that would mean about a three-month delay. Commissioners could eliminate the wait by voting to begin the design process immediately.
"Design would begin tomorrow once they know exactly what site we're going to put it on," he said.
Sheriff Rick Staly favored the option to have the two structures built on separate parcels.
The proposed Sheriff's Operations Center building — a replacement for the existing one on State Road 100, which has been evacuated since June 2018 due to mold — would be about 50,000 square feet, but the FCSO expects that it would need 81,000 square feet of space by 2045, Staly said.
Placing both buildings on the same parcel would make that expansion impossible and leave both facilities with limited parking, he said.
It would also drive up infrastructure costs, he added, because the site wouldn't have space for open stormwater retention ponds, and water would therefore need to be piped elsewhere.
“If you still combine us on the same property — which can be done — you are doing a disservice to a sheriff 15, 20 years from now," Staly said, "and the same thing with the library, because you will have landlocked them with no expansion.”
Staly's staff has been divided between the county courthouse building and the county jail administrative complex ever since the Sheriff's Operations Center on S.R. 100 was evacuated after employees there began falling ill and tests turned up mold and moisture problems in the building, which had previously been a hospital.
In the meantime, the sheriff's staff have felt constrained at the courthouse building, and Clerk of Court Tom Bexley has also said that the FCSO's presence there impedes his own operations.
"We've been operating for two and a half years in a very decentralized, inefficient operation," Staly said. "... We have to get moving. We can’t wait any longer for these kinds of decisions."
The commission voted unanimously to place the Operations Center and the library on separate parcels and initiate the design process.