Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
Supervisors sign Orchard Hill contract
Downtown businesses frustrated as county plans office moves to Washington outskirts
WASHINGTON — County supervisors have authorized the signature of a contract with Encite Architecture & Design and Carl A. Nelson & Co. for remodeling work at Orchard Hill, the Washington County Courthouse, and potentially the engineer’s office.
The contract spells out plans for the complex west of town, signaling supervisors’ intention to relocate administrative staff there, rather than buying the Federation Bank building downtown. At a meeting last week, Supervisor Marcus Fedler said the latter building had less square footage, fewer options for expansion, and would deck property tax revenue under government ownership.
The move came despite public comments urging supervisors to change or delay their decision at the Tuesday morning meeting.
“I request that this topic be an agenda item at the March 28 meeting, in order to have adequate time in your agenda to share with you the support that exists regarding the merits of the Federation Bank building,” said Karen Bates Chabal, who owns Central Park Antiques in Washington. “Even if you ultimately pursue your original inclination, you will have allowed the people of Washington County to voice their wishes to you.”
Some downtown business owners say county office relocations away from the square would detract from commercial traffic that feeds the local economy. That concern was the first listed in one petition asking supervisors to reconsider the plan, which the Washington Chamber of Commerce included in its newsletter sent hours after the meeting.
Others said the price of renovations at Orchard Hill was too high, with the contract pinning renovation costs at $4.17-$4.595 million. The work would not build new structures, but overhaul the buildings already on-site. The contract also includes remodeling efforts for the county courthouse and county engineer’s office, with prices of $1.115 million and $1.482 million, respectively. The county has previously stated plans to soften the financial blow using the bulk of its American Rescue Plan Act funds, which total over $4 million.
The Federation Bank building was offered to the county for $800,000 in December.
Washington resident Melinda Lord said she was skeptical of Orchard Hill’s price tag.
“Whatever your contract is, I guarantee you will have change orders and cost overruns,” Washington resident Melinda Lord said. “Materials are going to go up, there’s going to be unforeseen things … I really think the Federation Bank building is a great idea, and it also shows people that the county government and taxpayers want to invest in our downtown.”