By Jessie Burchette
County commissioners flatly rejected a planned Social Services facility that is $2.3 million over budget.
Salisbury architect Bill Burgin presented schematic plans to commissioners Thursday for the renovation and expansion project that would combine all Social Services offices at the Health Services Building on Faith Road.
The county hired Burgin to design the project, which includes renovating the existing mental health section of the building and adding new space.
Commissioners had agreed on a budget of $5.1 million for a total of 45,000 square feet of space. The county is in the process of borrowing the money for the project.
Commissioners were briefly speechless when Burgin unveiled the price tag ó $7.1 million. The design features a two-story brick addition with a total of 61,000 square feet of new and renovated space.
County staff had previously rejected Burgin’s first proposal for a 68,000 square-foot facility with a price tag of $11 million.
“We have $5.1 million,” said Chairman Arnold Chamberlain.
Burgin explained the method used to arrive at the additional space, citing surveys and discussions with Social Services staff. He indicated some changes or reductions might be possible but gave no indication it could be scaled back to the existing budget.
Commissioner Jim Sides cited the long list of needs from other departments and the school system. “I can’t accept $2.3 million more than we’ve allocated. There’s only so much money to go around. We will have to do something different.”
Burgin said he could look at some changes but said he hesitated to reduce space.
Sandra Wilkes, Social Services director, said the design is based on a very detailed and accurate assessment of the needs of the departments’ 189 employees. She said the design is conducive to good work.
“We have $5.1 million. If we can’t do it for that, it won’t happen,” said Chamberlain.
Other commissioners, including Sides, Tina Hall and Vice Chairman Chad Mitchell, indicated agreement with Chamberlain’s comment.
Sides, who serves on the Social Services Board, said he will make sure the board becomes more involved in the project.
Commissioners discussed several options including possibly hiring another architect to come up with a project that fits the budget.
Another option under consideration is buying a vacant building and renovating it to house the Social Services divisions that now operate at four sites.
County staff is looking at one or more buildings.
A substantial chunk of space in Burgin’s plan is for storage of thousands of records. Social Services is one of several county departments nearly overwhelmed with file cabinets full of records dating back decades. The records must be retained.
Commissioners gave Ken Deal, director of administration, the go-ahead to develop secure storage space in the former Silver Eagle building on Airport Road. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of file cabinets could be stored there.
The county now owns the building, which is in the runway protection zone at the airport. A business leases the building but doesn’t need all the space.
By Jessie Burchette