By Kevin Collison
Jackson County is moving to Quality Hill, that is 200 of its administrative employees now working at the historic, downtown Courthouse building.
The Jackson County Legislature approved the purchase of the former Argus building at 1300 Washington for $9 million this week.
The move is intended to provide non-court employees with better working conditions and clear the way for a long-term renovation of the 1934 Art Deco Courthouse building, the pet project of Harry Truman when he was a county judge.
“This will allow us to have the space to move people around as we reshuffle this building,” said County Administrator Troy Schulte, referring to the Art Deco courthouse across 12th Street from its architectural companion, City Hall.
“We think it will significantly improve our customer service and modernize our space.”
The move will not affect the courts and their staff, which will remain at the old courthouse.
The three-story Argus building has been vacant for several years, a casualty of the 2018 acquisition of its former parent company, DST Systems, by Connecticut-based SS&C.
The 83,000 square-foot building was completed in 1997 and includes a 212-space underground garage that will be reserved for employees. A 40-space surface lot will be available to visitors and a bus line also provides access.
“We think it will be more convenient for our residents,” Schulte said.
In a press release announcing the purchase, County Executive Frank White Jr. said the transaction will be accomplished without raising taxes or fees. He noted the county is on solid financial footing and now has the highest credit-rating in its history.
“I am proud to say that because of our hard work we can responsibly purchase this building without increasing anyone’s taxes, charging higher fees or taking on any additional debt,” White said in a statement.
Schulte said the employees will be relocated over the next year beginning with the property tax assessment and collections offices which currently occupy cramped quarters in the courthouse mezzanine.
Ultimately, the County Legislature, its support staff and Schulte’s office will join them at 1300 Washington. It will cost an estimate $6 million to repurpose the former commercial office building for government use.
“It’s in really good shape,” Schulte said. “We need just minor cosmetic changes to move our staff.”
The relocation to Quality Hill will allow the county to begin what’s expected to be a 15- to 20-year process renovating the historic 15-story Courthouse building, which has fallen into disrepair and still has three empty levels formerly occupied by the county jail.
Schulte estimated it will cost about $5 million per floor to replace its obsolete electrical and HVAC systems, and the total cost over the full period has been estimated at $255 million.
While the county could have likely built a new courthouse for less, its historic value makes it a community landmark. The courthouse was designed by Wight and Wight architects and the job was supervised by Truman.
“It’s the Harry Truman courthouse and we want to maintain its historic standards,” Schulte said.
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