Officials begin taking bids for office overhaul

LAWRENCEVILLE - It was once a Wal-Mart, then an evacuee service center.

Now, officials will convert a 135,000-square-foot retail center on Grayson Highway into a government office.

In today's Gwinnett Daily Post, county officials are advertising for bids to begin the first phase of the Wal-Mart conversion.

According to Facilities Management Director Mike Plonowski, the first phase of the conversion will make a new home for the county's records, which are currently in the basement of the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center.

Warehousing space will also be set aside for the departments of tax commissioner, facilities and elections.

The front facade, he said, would only undergo slight changes to place an elections office in the front-left corner of the building.

In September, Gwinnett opened the former store to thousands of evacuees from Hurricane Katrina. The building served as a mega-center for people to receive Red Cross assistance and other services.

While Plonowski said the conversion to storage space is relatively easy, the building is in need of major repairs.

For example, the county has plans to rip out air-conditioning units on the roof, completely reroof the building and add a new heating, air-conditioning and ventilation system throughout.

The roof alone will cost about $630,000 and the rest of the work about $2.4 million, Plonowski estimates.

The first phase will convert about 85,000 of the building's 135,000 square feet.

In the future, the county plans to convert the storefront into entrances for three departments. The current entrance will become the front door to the elections office, and new doors will be added for an environmental health office and a health clinic.

Plonowski said the county is going forward with the conversion in phases to move in as soon as possible.

Design plans for the clinic and environmental health locations will take some time, but Plonowski said he hopes the construction on those sections will begin before the first phase is completed this summer.

"It's more complicated that laying out warehouse space," he said. "We've pushed so hard on this we sort of have to catch our breath."

According to the plan, the building would be completely renovated by the end of the year.