Laarger Social Services building, larger price tag approved
By Jessie Burchette
County commissioners have agreed to go forward with a larger Social Services building with a bigger price tag.
The Rowan County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Monday night to add $1.2 million to the $4.8 million already budgeted.
The project will renovate the existing mental health portion of the Health Services Building on Faith Road and add around 27,000 square feet of new space to the building.
The combination of renovated and new space will house all of the Department of Social Services programs and its nearly 200 employees at one location. Currently the department’s operations are at four sites ó West Innes Street, Mahaley Avenue, the Southmark Center off South Main Street and the Crawford Building on North Main Street.
During the board’s retreat in February, commissioners expressed their displeasure with architect Bill Burgin for presenting a project more than $2 million over budget.
Burgin had better success Monday night.
“I have better news, but not the answers you want,” said Burgin. He went on to explain the problems, including higher costs for renovation than originally estimated and the need for more space. He also told commissioners he didn’t want to reduce the quality of the project.
Interim County Manager Leslie Heidrick provided four options after working with Burgin and Social Services Director Sandra Wilkes.
The options included increasing the budget and going forward with the project as originally proposed by former County Manager Bill Cowan.
Another option was moving only a portion of the DSS programs to the new site and leaving others at their present locations.
And other options included renovation of the former Winn-Dixie building on Jake Alexander Boulevard or building a new metal building on county-owned land.
While commissioners didn’t like the idea of increasing the budget, they liked the other options less.
“We’ve said from Day 1, we want all the people in one facility,” said Chairman Arnold Chamberlain, adding that he wasn’t willing to spend millions of dollars and not achieve that goal.
Commissioner Jim Sides, who also serves on the Social Services Board, agreed with Chamberlain, adding that it’s important to have the department adjacent to the Health Department which serves many of the same clients.
Sides said the space problems have existed at Social Services since the early 1980s. “This is 2008, let’s do it now,” said Sides, going on to make the motion to add the $1.2 million to the budget.
Commissioner Jon Barber joined Sides in the motion and also praised Burgin’s firm for its track record of work for the county.
Sides said the county will sell the Mahaley Avenue building, formerly Tri-County Mental Health, and use the money to offset two-thirds of the extra cost of the project. The building is valued at $800,000.
The decision to sell the Mahaley Avenue building will likely mean the county will look for another location for the Board of Elections office. County officials had previously identified that building the likely new location for the Election Office, which needs more space, more parking and easier access.
Sides also noted that the county will eventually recoup most of the $6 million through state reimbursements. Over a 45-year period, the state will pay 68 per cent of the cost.
Commissioner Tina Hall said the new facility will help better serve residents.
Vice Chairman Chad Mitchell said in future projects, commissioners may need to look more closely and get better figures at the outset.