Traverse City News and Events

County Commissioners Discuss Final Facilities Report, ARPA Project Updates

By Beth Milligan | Feb. 13, 2024

Grand Traverse County commissioners have received a final report on a new facilities master plan, which details $172-$214 million in recommended improvements to county buildings over the next decade – ranging from a new jail and public services building to renovations at the Governmental Center and Hall of Justice. At the same meeting, commissioners received an update on the status of more than two dozen community projects to which the county has committed millions in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.

Facilities Master Plan
Grand Traverse County commissioners anticipate needing multiple study sessions to dig into and process the recommendations in a just-completed facilities master plan for the county and City of Traverse City. The final report outlines recommended building improvements over the next decade – concentrated at three governmental “campuses” on Boardman Avenue, LaFranier Road, and Woodmere Avenue – to improve efficiencies and accommodate the need for growing services in the community. Grand Traverse County is the second fastest-growing county in the state behind Ottaway County, according to recent U.S. Census data.

In a presentation to commissioners, Ryan Archer of TowerPinkster – the firm hired to create the facilities master plan – described recommended county projects totaling almost $172 million on the low end and nearly $214 million on the high end over the next decade. City projects total another $40 million to $51.5 million, approximately. At the Boardman Avenue campus, recommendations include a full renovation of the Governmental Center, additions to the Hall of Justice and courthouse, the development of the southern Governmental Center parking lot, and the conversion of the current jail into parking.

That scenario assumes the construction of a new jail at the LaFranier Road campus, along with a new public services building that could house departments like MSU Extension, the Commission on Aging, Parks and Recreation, and county IT and administration. A new county facilities and storage building on LaFranier could consolidate storage for multiple departments at one location, freeing up other properties scattered around the county for other uses or possible sale. The plan also envisions a new central dispatch and emergency services center and a potential future juvenile facility at the LaFranier campus.

The Woodmere Campus – currently home to both the Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Office and Traverse City Police Department – would primarily become a city campus under the plan, with the construction of a new police department and new city public services building. The Sheriff’s Office is envisioned to move to LaFranier to be close to the new jail, with a small office kept in the city, which is the county seat.

Though Archer acknowledged the high costs of the plan, TowerPinkster provided a phased approach to construction that could spread those expenses out over time. Archer also noted that a remodel/replace budget – the cost of bringing 19 key buildings up to good condition with modern infrastructure and ADA compliance – was “just shy of $48 million.” That number “doesn’t change anything operationally,” he added. “You would do business as you continue to do business today.”

County Deputy Administrator Chris Forsyth called the plan “a clear vision” that offers a “flexible road map of renovation and new construction” aligned with the county’s strategic goals and objectives. He said the plan would provide improved public services to “meet the needs of a growing community.” Commissioners, however, indicated they had many questions about the plan and would need to thoroughly dig into it to better understand it before offering their support. Commissioner TJ Andrews wanted clearer answers on the legality of moving certain county services outside of the county seat in the city, or on the potential option of moving the county seat itself. Commissioner Brad Jewett said determining how to “pay for a project of this size” is going to be a “big topic,” while Chair Rob Hentschel said the “big three-letter question is: why?” He wondered if an investment totaling hundreds of millions of dollars would result in a proportional increase in services to the public.

Commissioners voted to schedule the first of multiple anticipated study sessions on the plan for February 28. They’re expected to hear from the sheriff and other department heads to get their thoughts on the plan at future meetings as they proceed through their review. “We’re not dismissive of this,” Commissioner Darryl Nelson reassured Archer of the firm’s recommendations. “We need to put a whole lot of time and effort into this.”

ARPA Projects
County commissioners received a status update on projects to which they’ve committed millions in county American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.

Under federal rules, ARPA funds must be obligated by the end of this year and spent by the end of 2026. Several projects to which commissioners dedicated some of the county’s nearly $18.1 million in ARPA funds have already been completed, according to a report from Special Projects Coordinator Jenny McKellar. Those include pickleball courts in Green Lake Township, the Child and Adolescent Health Center at TC West Middle School, GT Metro Emergency Services Authority decontamination upgrades, air quality improvements at the Pavilions, a childcare center at Pine Grove Church, and a food pantry project at Acme Christian Thrift Store & Food Pantry.

Other projects are in various stages of completion, though some have not made any progress at all. Commissioners authorized staff to send out a letter to applicants who have not made significant progress by the end of March requesting updates. Commissioners also requested updated spreadsheets be included in every meeting packet showing how much of their allocations applicants have spent and a red flag from staff if there’s a concern any applicant is at risk of not completing a project. The goal by the end of this year is that if it’s clear an applicant can’t complete a project – perhaps because other funding sources fell through, or the logistics can’t come together in time – the county will have enough time to reallocate those funds to other community groups before the year-end obligation deadline. “Currently I’m not worried about any of these at all, but I don’t want to get to a point where we are,” McKellar said.

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