As work begins on new Aiken Co. complex, some upset by cost

News 12 at First at Five / Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012

AIKEN, S.C. -- A new Aiken County Government Center is being built from the ground up. In 2014, county employees will move from their current location, the old hospital building on Richland Avenue, to a new building in North Aiken off University Parkway.

County Administrator Clay Killian couldn't be more excited.

"When you're recruiting new industries or things like that, one of the things that you like to be able to do is show them that the community cares about itself,” he told News 12. He admits that the county wouldn’t show off the current building to investors like Bridgestone or MTU.

He says the new building will be different.

"It's the latest of what we can come up with to better serve the public,” Killian said.

But it won’t be built without controversy.

"I think it's way too elaborate. It looks like a Southern mansion,” said Aiken County Tea Party Chairman Jerry Guiren.

Guiren says the building's initial price tag of $24 million has now inflated to about $37 million.

"It keeps going up, and I suspect this building and the whole project is going to cost over $40 million by the time it's over,” he said.

Guerin says that a new building on the current site would have been eligible for a tax credit, whereas the new location isn't eligible. In addition, he says the new location is also in the fringe of city limits. He says it’s too far from downtown Aiken.

That's why Councilman Scott Singer had doubts about building there, too.

"I think it's vitally important that we maintain a vibrant downtown Aiken,” he said.

But Singer says the $37 million price tag is reasonable and that once a final price is settled on soon, the construction company will be responsible for any cost overruns.

"So even if costs do go up in the future, in general, that shouldn't impact the taxpayer,” Singer said.

Ultimately, Killian says redoing the nearly century-old county building probably would have cost more than starting new.

Aside from the 20 acres purchased for the new building, the council also approved the purchase of 50 surrounding acres. Killian says they’ll provide both a buffer and place to grow. He says, in the future, even the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office could move to the site because of the additional acreage. Councilman Singer did not vote for that additional purchase of land.

Aiken County will hold a ceremonial groundbreaking of the new site on Sunday at 3 p.m. at 1928 University Parkway, across from the South Carolina Department of Transportation facility. Dozens of dignitaries have been invited, but members of the public are welcome to attend, too.

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