County staff moves to new headquarters

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By Arin McKenna

County Administrator Harry Burgess was upbeat in his assessment of the move to the new municipal building.

“All I’ve seen so far are smiles and positive comments, so I think everybody’s really excited about the fact that we’re back together,” Burgess said.

Community Services Director Charlie Kalogeros-Chattan described the new digs as “homey.”
Chief Deputy Clerk Sheryl Nichols is looking forward to lightning shows out her window with its view of a tower on DP Road.

County Attorney Rebecca Ehler is glad to be out of the basement of the community building and loves the “gorgeous views,” but she does have one regret.

“I have to admit that I miss being able to look across the street and see all the people who stop and get their pictures taken at the Oppenheimer and Groves statues every day. That was always interesting,” Ehler said.

The move is complete, and the county is definitely open for business in its new headquarters on Central Avenue.

It’s been a while in the making since the old muni building on a site near Ashley Pond was torn down in 2007 after it was declared unsafe for employees or the public.

The budget for the new building was set at $25 million, but it came in $1.7 million under that figure.

In the interim, county employees were scattered about in leased office space around downtown that cost taxpayers just over $2.1 million.

One of the things staffers are enjoying about their new surroundings is being in the same building.

“After our senior management meeting today, we all just grabbed each other because we had all these things we needed to follow up on, and it was just so easy. Instead of having to have another meeting or another phone call or an email, we just got an extraordinary amount of business done in 10 minutes after the meeting,” Kalogeros-Chattan said.

“This person needed that person and that person needed that person, and it all happened. We all just went off in the pairs we needed to, then broke off and reassembled in other pairs, and I got probably six things handled in the space of 10 minutes that I don’t even know how long it would have taken before.”

Ehler also appreciates the consolidation, since her office needs to deal with most other county departments.

“The best thing is being able to pop into somebody’s office and ask them a question and not have to do it either by email or set up a meeting for it,” Ehler said. “Yesterday I was able to walk across the hall and ask for a report I needed from community services and that was just like, wow.”

Burgess believes the public will appreciate that as well.

“They’ve had to travel between our various offices in the last several years and now, having everybody in the same building, we’re more of a one-stop-shop,” Burgess said. "And the building has been designed to accommodate those types of needs, specifically with the windows on the first floor for the utilities department, public works and community and economic development departments all in the same area so people can accomplish some of those more common tasks in very short order.”

The mastermind behind the move was Project Manager Steve Huebner, who coordinated the entire thing.

“It went, overall, very well. There were a few little things here and there, but moving who knows how many tons of stuff–think of the thousands of pieces of furniture and office content–it went extremely well.

Huebner credits Delancey Street Movers and organization on the part of the various departments; almost everyone else credits Huebner as well as the movers.

Huebner set up a system for recycling county furnishings.

“We had a color taping scheme. White tape was getting moved. Green tape was not getting moved, but it was good for reuse, and red was garbage,” Huebner said. “So if somebody saw something that was green, they knew it was up for the taking, so they would pull off the green and put on a white tape with where they wanted it to go.”

Huebner is still doing mop up with that aspect, letting departments know he spotted something they were in need of and helping them get it.

“I kind of became the clearing house for used furniture,” Huebner said. “I just didn’t want to see the stuff go to waste or the county end up spending money to replace something that it could have just reused.”

Nichols is looking forward to the open house coming up June 28.

Not only will the public be able to tour the building, it will be her department’s opportunity to get to know other county staff again.

“We were in trailers from 2007 to now. So there are new people. We don’t know everybody anymore, so we need to meet all the people in other departments,” Nichols said. “So on June 28 we’re going to run amok. We’ll work it first floor to third.”

The Los Alamos Fire Department also moved into new headquarters two weeks ago, at 999 Central Avenue.

The new offices were in disarray during that week, but Deputy Fire Chief Justin Grider expected to have things pretty well settled by Friday.

The department held its first CPR class in the new training room the Saturday after they moved in, although two days earlier the room was jammed with equipment and boxes.

Although LAFD offices were in the same building at 195 East Road since 1994, the divisions were scattered throughout the building.

When the lease came up for renewal they decided to look for offices that would allow them to consolidate divisions.

“We were able to save approximately $2,000 a month from our old lease,” Grider said. “And we wanted to get everybody co-located–like the training division all together in one spot, EMS all together in one spot, and the fire marshal’s office.”

The LAFD move when smoothly as well. Grider credits Huebner for his help and one of his staff.

“It truly is a project and takes a good project manager to make this happen,” Grider said. "On our end, Norma Valdez was our project manager, and, wow, did she make it happen.”

“The nice thing about being here is that now that we have the new muni building up and running, it’s right across the street, it’s a walk,” Grider said. “Before staff would have to get in the car and drive over for HR, OMB, and now it’s just walk across the street and get your business done and come back. So it definitely saves on driving time and puts people in a position where they can more effectively and more efficiently do their job.”

For those with business in the new municipal building, the customer care center has windows in the lobby and other key departments are on the ground floor.

Opening ceremonies and an open house are scheduled for June 28 and the first council meeting in the new chambers is June 25. 

To view more pictures of the move, see the multimedia slideshow here.