Bluffton to consider building new town hall, court

gsmith@islandpacket.comMay 13, 2013 

Bluffton town leaders are considering buying 11 parcels of land at Bluffton Village for a new Town Hall and Municipal Court.

The property, just off S.C. 46 between the post office and the Bluffton library, was foreclosed upon by Harbourside Community Bank in 2008, with $1.1 million owed, according to town documents. Town staff is proposing buying it for $400,000. The purchase is scheduled to be brought up at Town Council's meeting at 6 p.m. today at Town Hall.

The current Town Hall on Bridge Street, which was the former H.E. McCracken Middle School, is owned by the Beaufort County School District. It became Town Hall in 1992, and the town leases it for $1 per year.

"This building was built in 1976, so taxpayers have certainly gotten the value out of the building," said town manger Anthony Barrett, whose office is in Town Hall.

Bluffton has paid for several rounds of renovations, including about $100,000 in 2007 for a new break room, overhangs and windows.

After allegations the Municipal Clerk of Court's Office was robbed at gunpoint in 2006, the town spent $55,000 to add cameras, bullet-proof glass, fire alarms, a security system and a series of locking doors.

Town staff has been looking for a new location for several years. It has considered several factors, including price, location, parking and the effect on neighbors, according to town documents. The land under consideration is already appropriately zoned.

As of April 22, the town had 90 days to perform due diligence on the property. If it passes, closing would take place within 30 days.

No estimate of construction costs is available yet, Barrett said.

"If and when (the) mayor and council decide to move forward, then staff will bring back cost estimates based on their direction," Barrett said.

Councilman Ted Huffman said there is no rush for council to decide.

The town's master plan for Old Town calls for a new Town Hall, but there is no timeline, he added.

"This is just one of the options we're looking at," he said. "It's not a done deal."

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