Construction begins on new downtown office complex

Published 12:40 pm Friday, March 21, 2014

Andy Merrill digs out the foundation of the old parking lot where the new dental clinic will be located. (Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)

Andy Merrill digs out the foundation of the old parking lot where the new dental clinic will be located. (Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)

People walking the streets of downtown this week were greeted by a sight that has been quite rare these last few months.

Construction is officially under way on the two-story office complex located at the corner of Front and Main streets, across from city hall. Crews have spent this week removing pavement from the parking lot that formally occupied the space, doing so initial prep work for the eventual foundation of the new structure.

This week has been the first real opportunity for construction workers to get a crack at the project this year, as the weather conditions improved after a protracted winter season.

“The good news is that the weather has broken and the guys have been able to start going to town on this project,” said City Manager Kevin Anderson.

Construction was slated to begin during the winter, shortly after the construction contracts for the project were signed in December, Anderson said.

“Either of the previous two winters we could have done it, but we could not this year, for obvious reasons,” he said.

Anderson stated that the amount frost that accumulated the last few months would have made the necessary groundwork impossible for crews to contend with, among other factors.

“This is the first winter that I can remember that we didn’t have any construction going on,” said Jim Bradford, the city’s director of public services. “The temperatures were so low that crews really couldn’t do anything.”

The start of construction marks the first major milestone for the project since it received approval from the city council in August.

The finished complex will be the new home of the Cass-Van Buren County Department dental clinic, which will take up the entirety of the building’s second floor. The expanded space will allow the clinic to add three doctors to their current staff.

The first floor of the complex will have space available for lease, with the monthly revenue being used by the city to pay for the building’s mortgage. A number of businesses have already expressed interest in using the available space, Anderson said.

Work for the project is being coordinated by Pegasus Construction, the same company that developed the Lyons Medical Center, where the dental clinic is currently housed.

In addition to digging up the ground beneath the parking lot, construction crews have also started demolition work to the former Borgess health building located next to the lot. The space the building currently occupies will be turned into a parking lot for the new building.

“One of the concerns people had that was that this new building would eliminate a public parking space,” Anderson said. “However, there still will be public parking in that area.”

Despite the setback caused by the winter weather, Anderson said that the project is still on pace to be completed by the city’s initial projected end date in September.

“This project has been a long time in the making, so this is a very big week for all of us,” he said. “The new building will be an important addition to our downtown.”