First National to remodel

Published 10:00 am Wednesday, June 8, 2005

By By Adam Prestridge
First National Bank of Atmore president Shep Marsh will be writing a lot of checks in the near future.
The hometown bank announced last week that it had applied the finishing touches on the blueprints for a major renovation of the financial institution, which will include a complete makeover of its exterior and interior.
For customers and anxious residents, it won't be long before noticeable changes begin to occur.
"It's still in the planning stage, but it's in the final stages of the planning stage," Marsh said. "We're beginning to work on interiors and those sorts of things and we've now got all the buildings between the old jewelry store and the restaurant. Those are going to come down. We're hoping in the next couple of weeks, we can begin that, but we've got some engineering work to do. We've selected a contractor to take them down and he's ready to go, it's just a matter of getting some preliminary work done."
First National has acquired all the buildings that front Highway 31 between Main Street Jewelers and DJ's Happy Dayz Diner. All six buildings will be torn down making the bank visible from the busy thoroughfare.
"From a visual standpoint, it's going to be a huge change fairly quickly, taking down the buildings," Marsh said. "That's the first thing people are going to see, is those buildings coming down."
Marsh summed up the bank's reasoning for such a massive renovation, "efficiency".
"This building, I think they moved in July of '71, and it was state-of-the-art in '71, but like a lot of things, it's not state-of-the-art now," Marsh said. "We've got sufficient square footage, but it's not laid out as efficiently as it could be for today's banking because banking has evolved over the past 34 years. So we can make ourselves more efficient by rearranging the floor plan."
Not only will the inside of the bank be more efficient for customers and employees, but many of the systems within the bank will be upgraded as well.
"There are a lot of systems that need attention," Marsh said. "The heating and air, roof and plumbing, those types of things just get worn out over time and some of our systems are not as efficient as more modern systems. We'll be able to upgrade a lot of those things. A large percentage of the total cost is going to be really giving attention to some things that have been worn out."
Among the upgrades will be First National's small, inadequate parking lot.
"You can walk around and look at the parking lot and tell it needs some attention," Marsh said.
Although a final dollar figure hasn't been placed on the project, Marsh said he wouldn't doubt if the renovation would cost more than the original construction costs of the bank 30 years ago.
"It's not going to be cheap," Marsh said.
Another big reason for the remodel is to help make the bank more appealing, not only to customers, but visitors to Atmore.
"Obviously it was needed from a system standpoint, but it was also needed from an eye appeal standpoint," Marsh said. "Things were worn out and dated. Just like the systems are worn out, a lot of the furniture is worn out and the architecture really needs to be updated. Styles have changed and we would like to make the bank more visible, which we will do by taking out the buildings and putting an entrance on that side. Plus by putting a porch on the front, it's going to pull it out closer to the street and it's going to make the building more visible as you go up and down the street."
The front of the building will give off a New Orleans-type vibe, including rod iron, a balcony and beautiful landscaping. The new design will complement the renovations that have been going on throughout Atmore this year.
"We wanted to keep with the area and what's going on in Atmore," Marsh said.
Plans for the inside of the bank include reducing the teller line from 10 spaces to five, including drive up windows with more efficient equipment including a camera system with monitor in each lane that allows the customer and the teller to see each other. Also, individual offices will be bigger, the loan files will be consolidated into one place, the waiting area will improve and new accounts will be more private.
As for the second floor, the equipment room will be reduced in half thanks to less bulky equipment, the employee breakroom will be cut in half to make room for a employee training room and the trust department will be expanded.
"Basically what we did was, if we could make things more efficient from a space standpoint than they were, then we moved walls and moved offices around," Marsh said. "That happened on the entire first floor. On the second floor, the trust department and the employee breakroom were the two major areas that we impacted. If it wasn't going to make the space more efficient to knock out walls, we didn't do it. So we probably impacted 100 percent of the first floor and 40 percent of the second floor."
Design Build Concepts has been named the design build firm that will act as the projects general contractor and oversee the project. Marsh is excited about working with such a notable firm.
"The reason we chose them is because they do exclusively financial institutions," Marsh said. "They do everything. They do the planning, they do the construction supervision and they do the interior design. The biggest thing is because they only do financial institutions, they understand the functional needs of a financial institution. They can bring ideas that they've done in other places."
Throughout the construction, First National is also going to do its best to keep its money in Atmore.
"They will use local supplier, local subcontractors, everything they can possibly locally," Marsh said. "They're going to bid things out like anybody would and as long as somebody's within reason, then we're going to have an emphasis on using local suppliers and subcontractors."
As for First Nationals employees, they're eager to see work begin and see the renovation unfold before their eyes.
"I'm happy we're going to change up a few things because we need it," Andrea Lassiter, who works in First National's customer service department, said. "The bank has a 70's look to it and I think we need to look more modern."
Maegan Robinson is looking forward to the convenience of the new equipment she'll have the opportunity to work with on the teller line.
"Our current equipment is outdated and the new equipment will not only be convenient for our employees, but our customers as well," she said.
Marsh is pleased that his employees are anticipating the renovation, but hopes that excitement continues throughout the duration.
"They're excited and ready to get going, all of us are, but it takes a while," Marsh said. "I hope they stay this excited when it's hot, dusty and noisy."
But the employees shouldn't get their hopes up because operations will remain functional throughout the remodel.
"I describe it the other day as like doing open-heart surgery on a runner, while he's running," Marsh said. "We're going to stay in operation. We're going to minimize inconvenience to customers. We're going to keep operating as close to the way we are now as possible. There's going to be some inconvenience to employees and inconvenience to customers, but fortunately we've got two other locations in town. This is not our only location. We're going to do what ever it takes to not disrupt business."
There has not been a timeframe set for completion of the project.

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