| Architecture Studies Library
|Location:||Las Vegas, NV|
|Extra Note:||Packer, Adrienne. “County Looks at Space Issue: Government Center, Which Opened in ’95, Already Too Small.” Las Vegas Review-Journal. 24 December 2004. [Online]. Available: http://www.reviewjournal.com/lvrj_home/2004/Dec-24-Fri-2004/news/25536078.html Accessed January 3, 2005. ASL File #: LVA(F) JMA 63
Ten years ago, Clark County opened its spacious new $66 million Government Center to fulfill two primary missions: save taxpayers millions in lease payments and centralize government operations.
As the 10th anniversary of the center's opening approaches, the county faces a quandary similar to the one that prompted the construction of the building critics once dubbed the Taj Mahal. The 367,000-square-foot center is crowded. Meanwhile, county government spent $2.2 million leasing offices last fiscal year.
Administrators are rushing to find a solution to the now familiar problem. Earlier this month, the county hired JMA Architecture Studios to piece together a puzzle of abandoned county buildings, leased space and vacant county-owned land to find room for the swelling county work force.
In the decade since county employees abandoned the old Bridger Building downtown and moved into their new digs, county staff nearly doubled from 5,585 workers to 10,330 full-time employees.
The nearly $1 million study might conclude that it's time for the county to build a multilevel expansion on land currently home to the Government Center's customer parking lot.
"That's one of the things being looked at with the current study; at what point do we look at expanding this building?" said Don Burnette, the county's director of administrative services. "I don't think it's a matter of if, but a matter of when."
One focal point will be east of the Government Center, across the Union Pacific railroad tracks in downtown Las Vegas, where the majority of the valley's courtrooms, legal firms and law enforcement agencies are located.
Downtown is important for the county since most of its new positions are to meet the legal system's growing needs.
"We've had huge increases in the area of public defenders," said Sandra Norskog, director of the county's Real Property Management Department. "That staff comes on line much more quickly than we can build buildings."
But other demands have contributed to the increasing number of county employees. In the past four years, the county added an Air Quality Department with 120 employees. It has also taken over the state's child welfare responsibilities. The new Family Services Department employs 251 workers.
Both of those departments were unforeseen when the Government Center opened 10 years ago. In addition, the county has hired between 96 and 142 employees each year since 2001.
Administrators have shuffled and consolidated divisions to make room for the new departments and employees. Two years ago, the Building Department moved into a new facility on Russell Road. The election staff also moved out of the Government Center into a rented warehouse off Cheyenne Avenue.
"Some things we've done the last 10 years has bought us more time," Burnette said. "It's freed up space capacity in this building."
The county also has designed and re-designed available space and returned to leasing space in downtown buildings. But the efforts have not resolved space problems.
"Room for expansion and growth, dictated by the increased levels of service required of the county and/or mandated by new legislation is limited and does not meet the current or projected needs," according to the contract with JMA Architecture.
A question JMA Architecture's study should answer is one that's gone unanswered since county personnel abandoned the Bridger Building in March 1995 and moved into the Government Center: Who should occupy the Bridger Avenue high-rise, which is now a vacant shell?
"The Bridger Building will be retained as an asset, but we don't have a user identified," Norskog said. "When we go into redesigning it, we have to redo the building around the new user."
The study will include interviews with department heads to determine anticipated staff increases and needed office space. Also expected to be addressed is how the county will put the 72,000-square-foot Bridger Building to use.
Commissioners voted to spend nearly $20 million removing asbestos and renovating the structure in 1999. After the building sat on the market for two years without attracting a buyer, county officials decided they would hold onto it.
"The reality is there is not a lot of free space in the downtown area. We treat it as an asset that is increasing in value and that may have some use for us in the future," Burnette said. "It's of more value to us to hold onto it than it is to sell it."
The future of another county building is also in flux. The Clark County Courthouse, which will be vacated once the new Regional Justice Center opens, could become home to Metropolitan Police Department administrators.
Another option for police administrators, who are housed at Las Vegas City Hall, might be to take over City Hall if the city builds a new headquarters. Mayor Oscar Goodman has floated the idea of constructing a new City Hall on Las Vegas' 61-acre parcel west of Main Street where officials plan to develop a new high-rise urban core.
The JMA study is similar to another space assessment conducted around the time the Government Center was being designed. County administrators could not provide a copy of the older study because it's locked in a file of a former employee who is now deceased.
But Terry Murphy, a former county administrator who oversaw the design and construction of the Government Center, said the old long-range plan called for a parking structure to be built on the Government Center campus to make room for an expansion.
"The cost to those who would move there would be to build the parking structure; it was intended all along that that land would be developed into a regional government center," said Murphy, now a private consultant. "What's happening is as needs are arising, rather than say, `Let's build a parking structure,' they (county administrators) are looking to lease space."
County officials indicated that a parking garage remains in their long-range plans for expansion at their Grand Central Parkway headquarters.