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County Officials Consider Moving to Avoid $50 Million in Repairs

The St. Louis County administration building in Clayton, Mo., requires a $50 million investment to meet current fire codes. It might be cheaper just to demolish the building and move to a new location.

(TNS) — The St. Louis County, Mo., administration building here needs an estimated $50 million in upgrades to meet Clayton fire codes. That has officials questioning whether it wouldn't be better to just demolish and replace the 50-year-old high-rise or move most county offices to a new location, perhaps in a cheaper area than downtown Clayton.

The 10-story Lawrence K. Roos administration building, at 41 South Central Avenue, houses the executive branch, the County Council and county offices that process tax payments and issue notary oaths and marriage licenses. Before the COVID-19 pandemic sent some offices into remote work, the 190,000-square-foot tower was the workplace for about 700 employees.

In 2016, the city of Clayton updated its fire codes to require all high-rises be retrofitted with sprinklers by Jan. 1, 2028. Noncompliance would subject building owners, including county government, to fines and potentially higher insurance rates.

But to install sprinklers, the county would first have to pay for asbestos abatement on each floor. At the time, a budget document estimated a total cost of $27.5 million. It was unclear that then-County Executive Steve Stenger took any action on the issue.

In October 2019, months after County Executive Sam Page replaced Stenger, county officials said they were seeking proposals for a new county administration building, estimating costs to upgrade the high-rise at $35 million.

The COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 disrupted the plans, officials say. Meanwhile, budget documents in that year estimated the cost of the repairs had risen to $47 million.

In August 2020, the Page administration requested, and the County Council approved, an appropriation of $300,000 for a "Facilities Master Plan" study to figure out what to do. The county hired consultants Cresa, HOK, TW Constructors and Faith Group for the work.

A preliminary report suggests a range of options before the county, including simply upgrading the building, or going further by adding a modern, more energy-efficient facade — a more costly renovation that could take three years, according to a summary released to the Post-Dispatch on Thursday.

Or the county could think bigger: move all county offices into a new Clayton location, or to a cheaper location elsewhere in the county, or split county offices between a new building in Clayton and another satellite location elsewhere in the county, or between a renovated Roos and a new building either in Clayton or elsewhere.

Moving most offices outside of Clayton would "avoid Clayton occupancy costs," and provide a more convenient location with more parking than the county-owned lot across from the Roos. A new satellite building could be "a modern, suburban office building," comparable to the World Wide Technology Building in Westport Plaza, the study summary said.

But getting rid of the Roos would be difficult: The power plant below the building also services the county courts and police headquarters on either side of the Roos, complicating renovations and making it harder to sell the building.

The eight-page summary provided to the Post-Dispatch did not include cost estimates for each of the seven options, which it said varied widely depending on whether the county opted to lease or own its buildings and how it chooses to finance renovations and any new construction.

The county charter specifies that at least the County Council be located at a "seat of government" in Clayton. The county executive's office and others would also likely remain there. But other offices, like the Department of Revenue or the County Assessor, could be relocated.

Stephanie Streeter, acting director of the Department of Transportation and Public Works, said the study is just the first in a long process.

The consultant's recommendations, she said, depended on "multiple options — whether or not we decide to lease space, or build new, or retrofit the existing building."

The county now estimates the cost of upgrading the Roos building to meet Clayton fire codes to be $50 million. That's in addition to another $150 million in infrastructure repairs the county hasn't been able to meet, according to a preliminary 2022 budget.

Streeter said she did not know exactly what led to the increase in the county's estimated cost for upgrading the building other than possible increases in labor and equipment costs over the years.

The planning department, she said, hopes to have a detailed plan to present to the council but doesn't know when that will be.

"There is a lot to choose from," Streeter said. "It just really depends on what goals you want to meet. The question becomes: Iis this really the wisest investment and does that provide the best customer service for our residents? Is that the best we can do?"

(c)2021 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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