Napa County faces $6 million building repair dilemma

Napa County faces a question that’s spurring a conversation about which of its offices should be where in downtown Napa: Should it spend $6 million to repair air conditioning units on a building it doesn’t want in the long run?

The county-owned building is the former Carithers department store on First Street. It houses 160 employees from such county departments as the district attorney, public defender, assessor and the Election Division.

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Six aging air conditioning units on the roof are giving out. When the county explored replacing them, it found the roof is in poor shape and must be replaced before new units can be installed.

Supervisors in years past talked about selling the Carithers building so the land can be redeveloped, most likely with the building itself being demolished. The idea is that a prime downtown Napa property could be revitalized.

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The discussion halted as the county focused on building a new jail, the COVID-19 pandemic and a string of wildfires. Now the county must decide whether to pay $6 million for air conditioning and roof repairs on a property that a few years ago was appraised at about $8 million.

“But obviously, we can’t get rid of (Carithers) until we have a place for the 160 people who work there every day to go,” county Public Works Director Steven Lederer said.

An idea that came up several years ago was to move many of those employees a few blocks to the county administration building on Third Street, thus keeping the criminal justice departments near the courts. But then what to do with the Board of Supervisors, planning, building and other county offices already there?

One proposal was to move the Board of Supervisors and other county offices out of downtown altogether. They could go to the county’s South Campus, which is the former Dey LP office in the Napa Valley Commons that is already home to the county’s Health and Human Services Agency.

But Lederer noted there are several factors to consider. Among them is whether the Board of Supervisors might seem less relevant if it left the “seat of power” that is downtown Napa.

Or, if the Board of Supervisors wants to stay downtown, the county could build another building at the site of the jail, which is to move to a spot along Highway 221 in a couple of years.

But the Board of Supervisors will have two new members after January. The present board didn’t want to delve deeply into such an important matter as reshuffling the county’s downtown Napa presence before they come.

“I look forward to that conversation next year,” board chair Ryan Gregory said. “I hope it’s sooner in the year than later. The possibilities I wouldn’t say are endless, but they’re exciting.”

County Supervisor Diane Dillon said figuring this out will take some time.

“To do this, the massive amounts of money that needs to be discussed and the logistics and variables, it’s not an hour’s conversation,” she said.

In the meantime, there’s the question of spending $6 million to replace the air conditioning and repair the roof of the Carithers building.

Napa County could try to keep nursing the units along and hope they keep working. But engineering supervisor Daniel Basore said they are 32 years old, compared to an expected lifespan of 15 to 20 years.

The county already has to put mist on the air conditioners to take the pressure off the compressors when temperatures reach about 95 degrees, Basore said. But misting doesn’t work when temperatures reach 105 degrees, which happened twice last summer.

“With that, we had to make the decision to shut the units down to avoid the compressors blowing up and being fully unoperational for the future,” he said.

Waiting until the air conditioning gives out and then replacing it has downsides. County officials said it could take close to a year to receive the new units and make the roof repairs.

The county could abandon Carithers and replace it with rented office space in the city of Napa. But, with moving costs included, that could cost $12 million over five years, Lederer said.

“I think it pains all of us to put $6 million into a building we’re not going to keep forever,” Lederer said. “But the alternative is frankly twice as expensive.”

If the county replaces the air conditioning and later sells Carithers, the new owner would likely demolish the building. It’s possible the county could take and keep the air conditioning equipment, Lederer said.

Supervisors on Tuesday agreed to spend $110,000 for additional design and support work on the air conditioning replacement. That brings the total for such work to about $300,000.

The move kept the project moving forward while leaving the decision on whether to spend $6 million until next year, when a reconstituted Board of Supervisors can look at the bigger downtown picture.

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PHOTOS: Coverage of Napa County Election 2022

Election Day 2022

Joelle Gallagher, who is running for District 1 Supervisor blows a kiss while thanking her supporters at her election watch party on Tuesday.



Election Day 2022

Election Day 2022

Joelle Gallagher, second from left, who is running for District 1 Supervisor poses for a photograph with a supporter at her election watch party on Tuesday.



Election Day 2022

Election Day 2022

Supporters of Joelle Gallagher, who is running for District 1 Supervisor, look at early returns showing Mrs. Gallagher leading her opponent Suzanne Besú Truchard while attending an election watch party on Tuesday.



Election Day 2022

Election Day 2022

Suzanne Besú Truchard, who is running for District 1 Supervisor speaks with supporters at her election watch party on Tuesday.



Election Day 2022

Election Day 2022

Suzanne Besú Truchard, who is running for District 1 Supervisor speaks with supporters at her election watch party on Tuesday.



Election Day 2022

Election Day 2022

A long line of cars with people waiting to drop off their ballots is seen near the Napa County election office on Tuesday.



Election Day 2022

Election Day 2022

Volunteer Georg Hourmann waves Suzanne Besú Truchard campaign poster on the corner of Soscol Ave. and Third St. in Napa on Tuesday.



Election Day 2022

Election Day 2022

A pedestrian walks past a Suzanne Besú Truchard campaign poster as volunteers were out waving signs and encouraging voters in Napa on Tuesday.



Election Day 2022

Election Day 2022

Volunteers wave Suzanne Besú Truchard campaign posters on the corner of Soscol Avenue and Third Street in Napa on Tuesday.



Election Day 2022

Election Day 2022

Suzanne Besú Truchard, who is running for District 1 Supervisor, waves posters along with volunteers on the corner of Soscol Ave. and Third St in Napa on Tuesday.



Election Day 2022

Election Day 2022

Volunteer Abby Garner waves Suzanne Besú Truchard campaign poster on the corner of Soscol Ave. and Third St. in Napa on Tuesday.



Election Day 2022

Election Day 2022

A voter is seen reflected in an American flag before filling out their ballot at Las Flores Community Center in Napa, one of the vote center locations in Napa County on Tuesday.



Election Day 2022

Election Day 2022

Pauline Mpuekela votes in person at the American Canyon Boys and Girls Club which is one of the vote center locations in Napa County on Tuesday.



Election Day 2022

Election Day 2022

Election official Kathleen McDonald helps a voter at the American Canyon Boys and Girls Club which is one of the vote center locations in Napa County on Tuesday.



Election Day 2022

Election Day 2022

A person is seen filling out their ballots at Las Flores Community Center in Napa, one of the vote center locations in Napa County on Tuesday.



Election Day 2022

Election Day 2022

The socks of election official Karen Burzdak are seen as she helps a voter at Las Flores Community Center in Napa, one of the vote center locations in Napa County on Tuesday.



Election Day 2022

Election Day 2022

Someone stands next to a “vote here” sign at the American Canyon Boys and Girls Club which is one of the vote center locations in Napa County on Tuesday.



Election Day 2022

Election Day 2022

Election official Kathleen McDonald hands Pauline Mpuekela an “I Voted” sticker after she had cast her ballot at the American Canyon Boys and Girls Club which is one of the vote center locations in Napa County on Tuesday.



Election Day 2022

Election Day 2022

Election official Bobette Blackwood collects a ballot form a driver at a drive-up ballot drop off location outside the Holiday Inn Express in American Canyon which is one of the vote center locations in Napa County on Tuesday.



Election Day 2022

Election Day 2022

Sarah Maher fills out her ballot while holding her son Grayson at Las Flores Community Center in Napa, one of the vote center locations in Napa County on Tuesday.



Election Day 2022

Election Day 2022

A voter brings in his ballot to drop off at the American Canyon Boys and Girls Club which is one of the vote center locations in Napa County on Tuesday.



Election Day 2022

Election Day 2022

A person is seen filling out their ballots at Las Flores Community Center in Napa, one of the vote center locations in Napa County on Tuesday.



Election Day 2022

Election Day 2022

Voters and officials are seen at Las Flores Community Center in Napa, one of the vote center locations in Napa County on Tuesday.



Election Day 2022

Election Day 2022

A person is seen filling out their ballots at Las Flores Community Center in Napa, one of the vote center locations in Napa County on Tuesday.



Election Day 2022

Election Day 2022

Election official Rudy Gonzales helps a voter at the American Canyon Boys and Girls Club which is one of the vote center locations in Napa County on Tuesday.



Election Office

Election Office

Election service assistant Lizabeth Garibay organizes ballots in the vote-by-mail board room before they are checked for errors at the Napa County election office on Monday.



Election Office

Election Office

Election volunteer Sandra Wilber deposits a ballot from a voter at a drive-up ballot drop box on Monday outside the Napa County Election Division office. Voting in Napa County and elsewhere in California will continue through 8 p.m. Tuesday.



Election Office

Election Office

An election official checks a ballot for flaws or errors in the vote by mail board room within the Napa County election office on Monday.



Election Office

Election Office

Jennie Keener an election services assistant shows Dorothy Curry, 90, how to use the electronic voting machine at the Napa County election office on Monday.



Election Office

Election Office

Vote center leader Graciela Phelps arranges ballots in the vote by mail board room before they are checked for errors at the Napa County election office on Monday.



Election Office

Election Office

Leo Barrera compares current ballot signatures to previous signatures as a security measure to prevent voter fraud at the Napa County election office on Monday.



Election Office

Election Office

Vote by mail ballots are brought into the vote by mail board room within the Napa County elections office before they are checked for errors on Monday.



Election Office

Election Office

Election service manager Xioneida Ruiz prepares to box ballots that have already been counted at the Napa County Election Division office on Monday.



Election Office

Election Office

Napa County officials run ballots through a machine that scans signatures that will later be compared to previous signatures as a security measure to prevent voter fraud at the Napa County election office on Monday.



Election Office

Election Office

Napa County election officials assist residents with their ballots at the Napa County election office on Monday.



Election Office

Election Office

An election volunteer takes a ballot from a voter at a drive-up ballot drop box outside of the Napa County Election Division office on Monday.



Election Office

Election Office

A sign describing the punishment for voting equipment tampering is seen inside the Napa County election office on Monday.



Election Office

Election Office

Gigi Bueno runs ballots through a machine that scans signatures that will later be compared to previous signatures as a security measure to prevent voter fraud at the Napa County election office on Monday.



Election Office

Election Office

“I VOTED” stickers are seen at the Napa County election office on Monday.



Election Office

Election Office

An election official on Monday checks a ballot for flaws or errors in the vote-by-mail boardroom within the Napa County election office.



NewsVu: PHOTOS: A look inside the Napa County election office on the eve of election day

LOOK: For more Napa County images ahead of Election Day, point your smartphone camera at the QR code, then tap the link.

You can reach Barry Eberling at 707-256-2253 or beberling@napanews.com