Nancy Edmonds Hanson
Clay County government offices are on the move over the next two weeks to their new home at 3510 12th Ave. S. – accessible new quarters expected to open their doors to the public on Monday, March 29.
But “opening the doors” could still be largely a figure of speech, says county administrator Steve Larson. “It depends on state guidance on pandemic protocols,” he points out. Since most county business involves interaction with the public, most government offices have continued to be staffed as COVID-19 shut down other enterprises or sent their employees to work from home.
Instead, the county has taken stringent precautions all along, with distancing, masking and limited face-to-face contacts. That vigilance – for both employees and those doing business with the county – has been carried through into the spacious, airy new Clay County Government Center that’s in the process of being populated over coming days.
“The commission’s top priority all along has been keeping everyone safe,” Larson notes. “At the same time, they’ve said it’s important to insure the continuity of government services our citizens expect, regardless of what else is going on.”
The county purchased the 9-year-old, 19,000 sq. ft. building from RDO Equipment in December for $2.2 million. Since then, interior remodeling has turned the call center that once housed 100 employees in 28 offices and 78 cubicles into a spacious complex to accommodate 47 of the county’s employees. Plenty of space remains for conference rooms and work areas, as well as future needs.
Visitors will enter a large common area from the main doors on the west end of the single-story building, which resembles a modern strip mall. The floor plan has been organized to group all land transactions around that lobby. The auditor’s and treasurer’s office, where residents drop off tax payments, is immediately to the right of the entrance. Arranged counter-clockwise to its left are the planning and zoning office, the county recorder with its trove of land records, and the assessor. All will meet the public at widely spaced service windows outfitted with Plexiglas barriers.
Moving the entire seat of county government has been a considerable challenge, handled entirely by the maintenance staff. “I’m amazed at how flawlessly it’s been going,” Larson says. This week, his was one of the first offices to take up its new quarters at the CCGC, along with Human Resources and Information Services. Next week, the plan is to settle the auditor technicians in their new space. The rest will arrive the week of March 22, including land records, planning and zoning, assessor, treasurer and nearly everyone else.
What will go in the emptied-out courthouse? Its name is a clue. “It will become the Justice Center,” Larson reports. The badly cramped courts, with their offices and conference rooms, will finally be able to spread out, with the old commission chambers becoming a much-needed fifth courtroom.
Only a few elements of the rest of county government will remain on 11th Street, including the new, larger County Multipurpose Community Room where the county commission and other boards meet. The probation department will occupy the first floor, while court administration will take up the second.
Information Technology will also stay put, as will Solid Waste Management for a time. The latter will move to the planned Solid Waste Transfer Facility when it’s ready; after securing state funding last November, construction is expected to begin this summer and be finished by July 2022. The Department of Motor Vehicles will remain in the Center Mall, where the county signed a multi-year, renewable lease earlier this winter. “It’s been a hit with the public,” Larson confides.