County plans to fund $30 million for renovation of former Center Crest building

The old Center Crest building at 502 E. Howard St. in Bellefonte. Photo of Geoff Rushton |

The Center County government plans to spend approximately $33 million on renovations to the former Center Crest building in Bellefonte and renovations to the Willowbank building and courthouse.

On Tuesday, the commissioners moved to authorize a $30 million general obligation bond that would cover the bulk of the costs, with county funds accounting for an additional $3 million. The board unanimously approved the addition to next week’s consent agenda of a resolution declaring the intention to issue the bond.

Renovations to the old Center Crest building at 502 E. Howard St. are estimated to cost $29,246,429, Deputy County Administrator John Franek said. Improvements to the county’s Willowbank building and ongoing renovations to the courthouse, primarily replacing retaining walls, are expected to total $2.8 million. The rest of the funding would be for contingencies.

The declaration of intent is only the first step in issuing the bond. Settlement and availability of funds would likely come in July or August, bond lawyer Jennifer Caron told the board.

Debt financing for the project will not result in a tax increase, Commissioner Mark Higgins said, noting that the mileage in part of the county budget covers bond servicing. Board Chairman Michael Pipe said the county’s $3 million funding will come from income replacement money from the American Rescue Plan Act.

The 118,000-square-foot Howard Street building, which will be used primarily for county offices, had been used by Center Crest since it opened in 1938, but as of March 2021, the retirement home moved to the new care center in College Township. The county retained ownership of the building and, after a adaptive reuse study last year, the commissioners approved in March a proposal by Muhlenberg Greene (MG) Architects for the design of the final plans.

The 84-year-old building is the county’s oldest permanently owned facility, behind the courthouse.

“We have a solemn obligation to maintain this important county building in good condition,” Higgins said.

Pipe added that the project partially preserves Center Crest’s heritage.

“The number of people who have worked there, resided there and their family members who have traveled there is certainly in the thousands,” Pipe said. “I think we have an obligation to honor these people, to invest in this building, to breathe new life into it and to reuse it. We know that the building has good bones as they say. It can certainly be updated and improved.

County social services offices, which are currently located in Willowbank and leased space in other parts of the county, are expected to move into the facility.

Having the offices under one roof would streamline access to services for residents and improve coordination while saving the county money on rental expenses to offset some operational costs and maintenance costs. repair for decades, the commissioners said.

It would also reduce overcrowding in the offices of the Willowbank Building.

“The pandemic has allowed us to do remote work, but as we’re thankfully seeing cases go down, we’re bringing more people back into the building,” Pipe said. “The work we do is really teamwork of person-to-person, human-to-human interaction. We really think it’s best done in person. So we need the extra space to mitigate a part of the overcrowding that we have here in Willowbank.

Moving employees from the leased spaces would also bring about 100 workers back to Bellefonte.

“The community of Bellefonte that we know is seeing a lot of investment, constant investment and revitalization,” Pipe said. “That would really be part of that, that investment in the Bellefonte community would potentially bring over a hundred workers back to Bellefonte… It would be people going to lunch, having meetings in cafes in downtown Bellefonte, potentially even move here.”

The building would provide space for other county departments, such as the office of elections, and planning development will determine a percentage of space that could be leased to businesses or nonprofits.

The county will continue to work with the Borough of Bellefonte and hold public meetings to gather community feedback on this space, Pipe said.

The commissioners “have been lucid and realistic” about the costs, Pipe said. He thanked Commissioner Steve Dershem for asking tough questions and helping identify cost savings for the project.

Dershem said he “worked long and hard” on the decision, but now feels “comfortable” with the progression.

“Although I struggled to say ‘yes, this is the right decision, and maybe it’s a little bigger than what we need right now’, I think it will be a great relief. growing pains in the future,” he said. “And I think there’s also an opportunity for us to take this facility and partner with some of the community resources that we use on a daily basis and put them all under one roof.”

He added that he hopes the end result will be a partnership with the Bellefonte community that “we can all be proud of” and a facility that has served the needs of the county for generations.

“This is definitely going to be a project that will serve us well in the future,” Pipe said, noting plans could be scaled back in the process if needed.

Franek said the goal is to put the project out for tender in January 2023, with construction to be completed in the second quarter of 2024.

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