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Sheriff's office shifting spaces
Employees to relocate to leased facility
sheriffs map
These buildings, located next to the detention center in downtown Cumming, have been abandoned. - photo by Photo Illustration/Jim Dean

Forsyth County is taking steps to address the facility woes of the sheriff's office.

County commissioners voted 5-0 on Tuesday to relocate employees from at least two sheriff's divisions to an office building north of downtown Cumming.

Some of the affected employees have already moved once, after reports of "sick building syndrome" forced the department to abandon two facilities last month.

Those employees, who worked in the Criminal Investigations Division annex and the Crime Scene Investigations building, will join others from the sheriff's headquarters and the CID main building in the rented space.

Chief Financial Officer Bill Thomas said Tuesday the county would pay for $101,000 worth of modifications, including technology and telephones, to the Merrill Lynch building (click for map) at 475 Tribble Gap Road.

Sheriff Ted Paxton plans to take $97,400 per year out of the department's budget to lease about a third of the 24,000-square-foot building.

Also of concern at Tuesday's meeting was finding a new home for the sheriff's crime lab.

The board voted to pursue bids on leasing or buying a modular facility that would replace the existing building in the parking lot of the Forsyth County Jail.

A report provided by the sheriff's office described the conditions of the crime lab and other department buildings as hazardous.

Among the problems in the facilities, the most recent of which was built in 1960, were sewer backups, rodent infestations and improper ventilation.

County staff recommended Tuesday that the commission consider demolishing some of the buildings, which include the CID annex on East Maple Street, CID main building, the crime lab and the Extension Services building in downtown Cumming.

Thomas estimated demolition could cost $80,550, based on similar projects in the past.

Talk of demolition and relocation come a couple weeks after the sheriff's department had to vacate two of the buildings. Four people went to the hospital for illnesses believed to be linked to the conditions inside the facilities.

Relocated employees have been working from various locations, including the sheriff's office north and south precincts.

Paxton voiced concern to commissioners at Tuesday's meeting.

"For the longest time, we've been trying to put a square peg in a round hole ... it's important we get something that is going to serve the purpose instead of just trying to make something work," Paxton said.

The problems come on the heels of November's failed bond questions. Voters rejected a $16 million bond, with a 20-year-repayment schedule, that would have paid for a new 51,000-square-foot sheriff's headquarters.

Voters also rejected a plan to build a 226,000-square-foot jail with 480 beds through a $75 million bond. It was the fourth time in eight years that a proposal to build a new detention center failed.

The dilapidated state of the buildings is one of many factors Paxton had cited in pushing for new facilities.