DANVILLE — Vermilion County officials are hoping federal emergency management officials will allow the county to move out of the current Vermilion County Emergency Management Agency building on Georgetown Road and find a new headquarters for that local agency.
Vermilion County Board Chairman Gary Weinard said the building at 2507 Georgetown Road, between Tilton and Belgium, has multiple problems and does not serve the needs of the county well.
The property includes two buildings, an aging single-story building that was a long-time television and appliance store. It sits at the front of the property nearest Georgetown Road and behind it is a pole barn. The front building has serious issues, including sewer, electrical, flooding and mold problems, Weinard said. The stone facade is pulling away from the front of the structure, he added, and in recent high winds, a front window was damaged. The 8,000-square-foot pole barn is newer and in good shape with a concrete floor and plenty of space to store the agency's equipment and some equipment of the Vermilion County Sheriff's office.
The front building is divided into office space and houses the EMA headquarters, including its communications center, a training room and the Vermilion County coroner's office.
Weinard said the property was not a good choice as EMA's headquarters when it was purchased in 2005 using Federal Emergency Management Agency grant funds. That federal agency has a say in what the county can and cannot do with the property, he said, because it was purchased and renovated with the federal dollars.
Weinard said the hope is that FEMA will allow the county to surrender the building or sell it.
In 2005, the county purchased the property using $200,000 from the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program.
The goal was to relocate EMA from the Public Safety Building, 2 E. South St., Danville, to the Georgetown Road site. The agency was eligible for the funds because of Vermilion County's proximity to the Newport Chemical Depot in Indiana.
The entire grant totaled $249,000, and the additional $49,000 was earmarked for renovations to the front building, including about $8,000 to make restrooms handicapped accessible, about $15,000 to $20,000 to transfer communications equipment and the rest for other upgrades.
More than a year later, the renovations were still not complete, the front building had to be treated for termites, EMA had not moved into the buildings and grant money was exhausted. County officials requested another $40,000 to finish the work, and although renovations still weren't finished, the agency finally moved there in December 2006, and the county's own building and maintenance crews took on the task of trying to finish renovations as they had time.
Former county board Chairman Jim McMahon succeeded Boyer in 2006, and McMahon said the front building had issues from the first day he became chairman. Ideally, McMahon said, he wanted to move from that site, but federal officials would require the county pay back the more than $249,000 in grant money.
Last year, county officials started talking about other alternatives, and in September, McMahon and the county board's public safety committee met to discuss the situation.
McMahon proposed demolishing the front building and replacing it with an addition to the pole barn. McMahon said maintaining the front building would cost the county more in the long run than building an addition.
EMA Director Ted Fisher told county board members that the front buildings roof leaks, and the back part of the building, where the coroners office is housed, floods with up to a few inches of water when it rains heavily, and the electrical system does not have the capacity to support all EMA functions. The pole barn is on higher ground, so it doesn't flood, officials said.
But after further researching a building addition, county officials learned there's not enough space next to the pole barn to build an addition large enough to house the EMA headquarters.
So Weinard, who took over as county board chairman last month, said county officials have been doing a survey of other potential sites for an EMA location, but has no conclusive locations yet. And in the meantime, he's planning to meet with FEMA officials to discuss surrendering or selling the building without having to pay back the federal grant money.
"But I don't know if they will allow it," Weinard said.
Controversy surrounded the purchase of the two buildings in 2005. A private citizen had bought the pole barn on contract for $78,000 in 2003, and two years later, the county agreed to buy it for $110,000. The county paid $90,000 for the vacant front building. Bill Boyer, Vermilion County board chairman at the time, had enlisted Don Crist, the Vermilion County supervisor of assessments at that time, to represent the county as real estate agent in the purchase of the pole barn and as co-agent in the purchase of the front building. Crist was paid a 6 percent commission — $6,600 — on the sale of the pole barn, and got half — $2,700 — of the $5,400 commission on the sale of the other building.