After three and a half years and a cost more than double the original budget, the old Sears building in downtown Macon is up and running as the Bibb County Sheriff's office downtown annex. 13WMAZ’s Mary Grace Shaw investigates why this renovation took so long and where the county found the money to finish the project.
For years, most people traveling down Macon's Riverside Drive would turn onto Third Street to visit the store Sears. However, over the years as the city changed, Sears closed, leaving the building vacant.
In July of 2013, Bibb County commissioners agreed to spend more than $2.8 million to buy the building and renovate it. The county took out a $10 million bond for money they could use to begin seven projects, including this one.
“Air conditioning, electrical, plumbing, elevators, the big system items were all inspected and deemed to be OK,” says Bibb County SPLOST Coordinator, Clay Murphey. He says he took over managing the project just as construction began.
“The amount of money given, that was a guess with really no guidelines because we really didn't have any plans,” says Murphey.
On top of that, Murphey says they discovered the building had a lot more problems than their first inspection found.
“Totally new electrical system, and I mean everything. The old panels were not usable. The switch gear was not usable. The air conditioner, the roofs were all shot,” says Murphey. He says Bibb County had to look for other places to find the money.
When the county began those projects in 2014, they set up a system for moving funds from one to another. It says they could raise the budget for those projects with just written approval from the Mayor.
“You say, ‘OK, where are the projects in their life of construction and where and how do we get to completion?’” says Murphey.
The county did that in May of 2015. Murphey says since they already owned the Sears building and needed to move workers in, they moved $500,000 from another project for renovations at Tobesofkee to the Sears project.
Over the next year and a half, the county moved more than $1.68 million from other projects to the Sears building.
The Sears building was completed in December at a cost of more than $4.4 million.
“Yes, we ran over our budget of a $1,000,750, but that was an unrealistic amount established by the previous Bibb County Commission established before consolidation,” says Murphey.
Now inside, you will find several departments under one roof which Captain Shermaine Jones says will help his investigative team tremendously.
“Violent crimes and property are literally a hallway away, and we can share information, I mean a whole lot quicker,” says Jones.
Below are pictures from inside the new annex: