While the need for an expansion of the Coweta County Jail is well known, Coweta County has other major facility needs.
The need for future buildings, expansions and additions for various departments was discussed by the Coweta County Commissioners and county staff at a work session Friday.
The need for a new jail has been discussed for years, and preliminary planning work has already been done. The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting slow down of court cases led to a lower population at the jail, as more inmates were released on bond.
Because the need has been discussed so much, “we won’t spend a lot of time on the jail,” County Administrator Michael Fouts told the commissioners.
• County Administration Building, Elections and Tag Office
The past year, with new – and larger – election equipment, the addition of paper ballots, and an unprecedented demand for absentee ballots, brought into focus the need for more space for the Coweta Board of Elections and Registration.
Currently, voting equipment is stored in the old building department space on Olive Street, known as the elections annex, and elections offices and equipment occupy space in the basement and on the first floor of the county administration building.
The annex is about 3,500 square feet, and all together, elections occupies about 8,000 square feet, said Facilities Management Director Mike Johnson. But the design of the county building, with numerous hallways, offices and twists and turns, is not ideal.
“There are a lot of efficiencies that could be made with space that was more compact,” Johnson said.
A lot of the election equipment is on rolling carts, and has to be tested periodically. The current set up is “not very efficient and really restricts their ability to do what they need to do,” Fouts said.
As Coweta County grows in population, that means more vehicles that have to be registered. Fouts said Tax Commissioner Robi Brook asked the county to look at opening some sort of satellite location.
That’s something the county looked at about five years ago on Highway 154. “We were close to doing a lease, and we decided to back off. We think it’s time to put that back into consideration,” Fouts said.
One idea is to participate in the state’s kiosk program, which allows self-service renewal through a kiosk. Kiosks are located in Kroger stores in many metro-Atlanta counties.
While most of Coweta’s county government operations are in downtown Newnan, most of the population lives east of Interstate 85.
An annex on the east side would be more efficient, Fouts said. The right facility could house a satellite tag office, the elections office and maybe the Georgia Department of Driver’s Services.
“That is what we are looking to do,” Fouts said. “If it is the board’s desire, we believe that is the first step in trying to solve the challenge of this building,” he said, referring to the county administration building.
Commissioner Paul Poole said he’d like to see the county continue to encourage people to renew their tags online.
Under the state’s old online system, the county was able to absorb the convenience fee for online tag renewal, as a way to encourage more people to use the service. But the new system doesn’t allow the county to absorb the cost, Fouts said.
There are other departments that need space. If the elections and registration offices are moved out, and there is some relief for the tag office, that leaves room for other offices.
With the opening of the new Coweta Public Works building on Selt Road, the old transportation and engineering offices, in an annex on the Washington Street side of the building, are now vacant. The current plan is to demolish that annex and grass the space, Fouts said.
The city of Newnan is working on a redevelopment project at the old Caldwell Tanks property across Broad Street, and the county will have some time to figure out the future use of the county’s downtown property in conjunction with the city’s plans.
• Coweta Animal Services
The Coweta Animal Services shelter, located next to the Coweta County Prison, has gotten improvements and expansion over the years. However, “we are simply outgrowing the facilities in terms of population growth and the rate at which most families have pets,” Fouts said.
“We need to have a conversation, probably a joint conversation with the city of Newnan, on possibly buying or constructing a facility that could be used as an adoption center,” he said.
Animal Services officers and inmates would still do the intake of animals. But Fouts said the idea is to possibly consider a public-private partnership on the adoption side. The adoption center could be in a commercial area that is more suited for adoption.
While the courts themselves currently have enough space in the Coweta County Justice Center, there are ancillary services that are located elsewhere downtown. They include Coweta Accountability Court, probation and the public defender’s office. The offices have moved around a bit trying to find the best location.
But there is a real need to have these offices located together. Fouts said they’d like to explore the possibility of a new location for all of the supportive offices, which would hopefully be in easy walking distance to the justice center.
The justice center, which opened in 2006, was designed to meet Coweta’s needs through 2025. There have been some interior expansions and finishing out of courtrooms. The county is also working on some agency space in state court, to help facilitate probation services, said Associate County Administrator Eddie Whitlock.
There is a courtroom that hasn’t been built out yet in the juvenile facility, and it isn’t expected to be needed any time soon.
The justice center “should last through 2025 easily, and beyond,” Whitlock said. Planning work on the justice center started in 1999, Whitlock added.
Currently, parking is the biggest challenge, Fouts said. Some other jurisdictions have started holding a night court.
“Changing the hours of operations – i know that is not a popular concept with staff and the judges, but it is something to consider,” Fouts said.
• 1904 Courthouse
The historic courthouse houses Coweta County Probate Court and the Coweta Visitor’s Center. Probate Judge Carrie Markham has expressed a desire to expand, Fouts said, and that would require taking over the area currently occupied by the visitor’s center.
Coweta and the city of Newnan have recently launched a new tourism marketing organization, Explore Newnan Coweta Inc., and that group can work with the county to find a new home for the visitor’s center.
• Public Safety
There are several needs for the Coweta County Fire Rescue Department.
The first is a place for an ambulance and crew that responds within the city of Newnan. The department temporarily housed an ambulance at a Newnan fire station, but the facility is not really set up for housing an ambulance, Fouts said.
One option is to convert an existing county facility to a “day room” for the ambulance and crew during the day. The crew could then return to a county station with sleeping quarters at night. One option is the Powell Expo Center, Fouts said. “We could repurpose it pretty easily, just to try it and see how it works.”
Roughly 40 percent of all ambulance calls are within the city of Newnan.
Long term, the department hopes to replace or relocate Station 10 in Senoia and Station 5 on Smokey Road. Station 12 on Ebenezer Church Road may also need to be moved to a more suitable location.
Station 10 in Senoia doesn’t currently have a ladder truck. Senoia recently changed its ordinances to allow the construction of four-story buildings, so a ladder truck will be needed in that area.
There will also be a need for a new public safety training facility. A new Station 5 might be able to be located on the same site as the training facility, Fouts said.
The training facility is going to be expensive; it could be something built in phases, said Whitlock. The county is looking at some property off Ishman Ballard Road, near the old landfill. That site will require some pretty serious grading, and public works is already running some geological tests on the property. The site would likely include a fire truck driving course.
• Compactor/recycling sites
Some of the compactor/recycling sites are too small, particularly the site on Andrew Bailey Road. The small office sheds also need work.
The sites are well used, said Commissioner Paul Poole. He said he still gets complaints about the county closing a site in Haralson.
Expansions to some sites can be done, but could be costly. Fouts asked if the commissioners would like to revisit the whole program and consider moving some of the sites to better locations.
“We don’t need a definite answer today. We do know that we need to spend some money on those existing sites,” Fouts said.
The county raised bag prices for the “pay as you throw” garbage program a few years ago, and with the C&D landfill and transfer station, the program hasn’t lost money in the past several years.
Fouts said he wouldn’t say the pay-as-you-throw program pays for itself, but it comes pretty close.
The recycling program loses money, but is popular. Many Cowetans who have private trash service still drop off recyclables at the compactor sites. The county may want to consider building some larger recycling facilities, Fouts said.
• The Newnan Coweta County Airport
When an instrument landing system was installed at the airport, the required setbacks changed for airline safety. Under those guidelines, the current terminal building is in violation. As funding permits, the county would like to replace it. Consultants have already been engaged to look at a plan.
• Coweta County Development Authority
The department authority is currently leasing space in the Wadsworth Auditorium. Hopes are to find a permanent space, and they are looking in the downtown area. The former authority office (which previously was the visitor’s center) off Highway 34 at Whitlock Park is now being used by the Coweta County Recreation Department.
There’s no set timeline for finding a new location, but they are looking, Fouts said.