New Castle officials are looking at a former lumberyard location as a potential new home for the city street department.
Monday night, Council members discussed, debated, amended and finally passed a resolution asking the New Castle Board of Public Works and Safety appoint two appraisers to seek the fair market value of property at 289 West State Road 38. The site is best known for the former Carter Lumber business, which came here in 1995.
Council members learned the site has almost 16 acres with several existing buildings.
Mayor Greg York said this option could be preferable to building a brand new street department facility, both in terms of cost and time. A fire destroyed the street department building and several pieces of equipment on June 17.
“They have agreed to donate a portion of that to the city,” York said of the building owners. “In looking at building materials and still working with the insurance company to find out what we could build another building for, with the numbers looking as they are, we could get into this ten times quicker than we could if we built our own. We could get into this cheaper than if we built our own.
“To me, this is just a good business move, a good transition we can make quickly,” York continued. “There’s already office space there, there’s already bathrooms there, there’s already full storage out back, there’s concrete out back, they’ve had several heavy trucks with lumber and shingles on it. The concrete is in excellent condition, the bones of the building is in excellent condition
“I think for the time it would take us to build new ...versus the time it would take us to buy and move into this, there’s just no comparison,” York added.
The mayor said purchase price of the property was $659,000, but that for city purposes and to help out in aftermath of the fire, he’s been told some of that would be reduced.
Local realtor Mike McKown, who the mayor said has sold the last five or six commercial buildings in New Castle, offered a comparison sheet detailing purchasing here vs. building new.
With some of the insurance money from the fire already in the bank, York said enough cash was on hand now to purchase the property and begin the process of relocating the street department.
“Obviously, just looking at the numbers, it makes sense, like you said,” Councilman Aaron Dicken said. “I also think, based on any settlements, I’d want to be sure that we’re proceeding cautiously and wisely in that if we can shave some dollars here and there by moving into a building like this, purchasing used equipment instead of new, that’s how I would want to proceed.”
But other council members said not so fast.
“I just found out about this two days ago,” Councilman Mark Koger said. “I want to hear more about it. I want to hear more from the citizens. It took us a long time to redevelop the REMC building and we’re still in the process of that with our EMS and police still not done. I don’t think this is a bad idea at all. I’m not against it. But I want to hear from citizens and I want it to be in the paper and I want people to digest it before we pass a resolution this quick.”
Council President Rex Peckinpaugh and Councilman Jeff Hancock also said they felt “blindsided” by the proposal.
“Jumping into something this major I think just needs to take a little bit more time,” Peckinpaugh said. “I don’t think this is a bad thing at all. I think it’s an awesome property to have. But is it right for us at this time? I don’t think two weeks is going to make that big of a difference if we put it off until the next meeting. I wish we would get some of these things a little further in advance. We surely knew we were interested in that building more than five days ago. It would have been nice to have gotten a little bit of a heads up.”
Koger agreed a little more time on the matter certainly wouldn’t hurt.
“You know, it’s not pressing,” he said. “This property’s been on the market for five years. It’s not like somebody is going to come in and swipe it out from under us. I know you guys want to be in it before winter. I think we can see that happening. But I think we as a council deserve to give our citizens and constituents some time to digest this. If they have comments and concerns, I want to hear from them.”
But Street Commissioner Lee Walker begged to differ.
“It is pressing for a couple of reasons,” Walker said. “We’re almost in August. We have no salt. If we have an early winter, I have no trucks, I have no salt. It is pressing. You just heard the mayor say, with the insurance company not cooperating very well, it may be this time next year if we decide to build. And so we have this opportunity. It would meet our needs. Yes, it does need some remodeling. But everything that’s there is what we needed at the old building that we don’t have.
“I appreciate where you’re at as far as the council, but if we drag this out another two weeks, four weeks, if it continually drags out, next thing you know we’re into October or November and I have no salt and I have no trucks,” Walker concluded.
“I’ve had an opportunity to tour that building,” Councilman Lynn Perdue said of Carter Lumber. “I think it’s an excellent opportunity for several reasons. The bones are good, we can move into it quickly, and on kind of a side note, that is one of the gateways into our city. We can control how that gateway looks.”
Dicken also said the process should slow down a bit.
“I feel like we’re putting the gas all the way to the floor where I would absolutely make a motion to proceed with appraisals if there was some other kind of checkpoint between the Board of Works pulling the trigger. That’s my concern. Because things can change drastically between now and sale time.”
Council members voted 6-1 to authorize seeking two appraisals on the building. City Attorney Joel Harvey explained that by law the purchase price for the facility could not exceed the average of those two appraisals. That motion contained an amendment by Peckinpaugh that the council would only authorize an expenditure up to $450,000 on the building.