Meadville Tribune

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July 14, 2013

County purchase of former Talon complex: Money pit?

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MEADVILLE — Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at kgushard@meadvilletribune.com.

 Meadville Tribune

Crawford County government has had a net cost of almost $3.2 million since 2010 on the former Talon Inc. site on Arch Street in Meadville — a property and buildings it still hasn’t decided if it will use.

The county has spent more than $3.3 million on the former Talon Inc. site and courthouse renovations and earned a little more than $132,000 in income from rent at Talon during the period, according to records from the Crawford County Finance Office.

Potential reuse of the Talon Inc. site as a county courts complex is part of multi-million dollar proposal to alleviate overcrowding at the Crawford County Courthouse in downtown Meadville. The proposal would split courthouse offices between the present courthouse building and Talon site, but county commissioners have taken no formal vote on whether to proceed with the project.

A lack of action is no reflection on the current board of commissioners, according to Francis Weiderspahn Jr., the chairman of the current board.

Weiderspahn said that determining what to do with the former Talon site won’t happen until the county gets its finances in shape — including determining how much it could borrow if the county chooses to move forward with the project.

History

The county’s acquisition of the Talon property came about under the previous board of commissioners and it stirred some controversy.

The previous board of commissioners at public meetings entered into several options to buy the site, citing the possibility of using it to expand courthouse offices it claimed were overcrowded and outdated. Then, on Feb. 28, 2011, without presenting a plan to the public or announcing a meeting to discuss the matter, the commissioners exercised the option to buy the building. After the Tribune raised questions about the legality of the commissioners entering into a contract without a formal public meeting or vote, the three retroactively and unanimously voted to purchase the property March 3, 2011, at a public meeting.

At the time, Commissioner Chairman Morris Waid and Commissioner Jack Preston, who had previously announced their intention to retire, and Commissioner C. Sherman Allen, who was successful in his re-election bid and remains a commissioner today, said they were not sure the county would use the building but that they wanted to secure the site and undertake a study.

The move drew some criticism as the Meadville Redevelopment Authority unsuccessfully had sought a buyer for the site for many years and the last private owner failed, handing the property back to the authority.

Next, the county hired the Weber, Murphy, Fox engineering and design firm to design several alternatives for courthouse expansion, including use of the Talon site, expanding the current courthouse, splitting between the two and building at a new site.

A Community Advisory Committee of unpaid volunteers was appointed by the former board of commissioners to study the options and make a recommendation. Ultimately, the CAC recommended renovating the Talon site and splitting county government operations between there and the current courthouse on Diamond Park at a projected cost of $25.3 million. The CAC took its recommendation on the road for a series of public presentations that ended in late March 2012. That projected cost now has risen to between $30.5 million and $31.2 million — an increase of 20.5 to 23.3 percent.

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