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Manatee Sheriff Steube gets a fix for evidence problem

MANATEE -- County officials Tuesday doled out $724,999 for a building designed to solve the sheriff’s urgent need for more space for property-and-evidence storage.

The commercial office building at 5213 Fourth Ave. Circle E. will soon be occupied by the Manatee County Employee Health Benefits Office, which oversees a comprehensive group major medical program, wellness program and dental plan for county employees and their families.

It is currently housed at the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Operations Center, 600 301 Blvd. W., and its former space will accommodate expansion of the sheriff’s property-and-evidence vault.

“I’m just grateful the county commission and the county administrator have found a home for EHB (employee health benefits), so we can continue to get our property-and-evidence room under one roof,” Sheriff Brad Steube said Wednesday.

“I’m pretty confident this will take care of it for a number of years,” he added.

In August, the sheriff told the commission that he desperately needed money to relocate the property-and-evidence room, which long ago outgrew its quarters.

Steube detailed what he said was years of broken promises from the county that had resulted in destruction of evidence in 3,600 cases, because of water intrusion and rodent infestation.

The sheriff’s office is charged with carefully storing and marking items that are used as evidence during court cases, and it requires plenty of secure space, he said.

“It’s a good, win-win solution for everybody,” said Karen Windon, deputy county administrator, of the purchase. “It allows us to move the EHB people out in a more timely fashion, so we can address the sheriff’s issue, i.e. giving him more space.”

The county commission approved the sale during its Dec. 20 meeting, and the closing took place Tuesday, according to Debra Cooper, a senior investment advisor for Sperry, Van Ness, a Bradenton-based commercial advisory real estate firm.

“The building’s almost brand new, it’s totally the latest code for hurricanes, completely handicapped-access, I don’t believe the county has to do a thing to move in,” she said. “It was the right building at the right time, and at the right price, I should say.”

Forney Engineering moved out Tuesday to new quarters at 1415 10th St. W., Palmetto, according to Ron Forney, president of the mechanical-electrical consulting-engineering firm.

“We needed a smaller place,” he explained.

The sales price worked out to about $110/per square foot, including furnishings, Cooper said.

The building, constructed in 2004, offers approximately 7,000 square feet of space, including five enclosed offices, kitchen and large conference room, along with 22 parking spaces and two handicapped parking spaces, according to county records.

For a time, officials considered a plan to move the Employee Health Benefits Office to the county’s Merrill Lynch building, at the intersection of Manatee Avenue West and 10th Street, Bradenton, with renovation estimated at $900,000, according to county records.

Also under discussion as a possible site for the evidence vault was a vacant former jail adjacent to the Manatee County Judicial Center, at 1051 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton, which officials feared would also require costly renovations.

However, once the county Property Management Department became involved, a solution in the form of Forney Engineering’s commercial office building, just north of State Road 64 East near 51st Street East, came about within a few months.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031.