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Gwinnett leaders open new Central Services Facility

LAWRENCEVILLE - Officials celebrated Tuesday the solution to overcrowding in the Gwinnett justice center halls - a former Wal-Mart that once sat empty and dark but now is home to the county's elections department and stores thousands of files that once cluttered hallways.

Although leaders cut a ribbon Tuesday opening the building, now named the Central Services Facility, the work is not complete.

Crews are still working to convert another 50,000 square feet of the building into a health clinic and offices for several public health divisions.

"To me, the biggest deal is we used an empty space," Commissioner Mike Beaudreau said. "The citizens have asked us to cut down on the big boxes, and I thought it was a win-win for everybody."

Just weeks after commissioners agreed to buy the former Wal-Mart last year, its massive size became a blessing for thousands of families evacuating the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina.

The empty store became a massive Red Cross relief center, providing services from school enrollment to health care.

On Tuesday, while the ribbon-cutting ceremony was taking place, elections workers were loading memory cards with the November ballot and processing absentee ballot requests.

The new building gives much more room for temporary workers hired to help just prior to elections, and it consolidates the county's elections equipment from two old buildings and a trailer into one place. Elections Supervisor Lynn Ledford said the new space also allows the county to put in new security measures to protect the ballots and

equipment.

A portion of the building holds county records, including birth and death certificates, court documents and county contracts, that had been cluttering hallways because of a lack of space at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center.

"We had all of these functions stuffed in GJAC or stuffed in another location of the county," County Administrator Jock Connell said.

After Tuesday's ceremony, officials approved a $156,000 contract to renovate a portion of the justice center to allow for other departments to shift within the building.