Space needs study set to be released near end of month

Published 2:24 am Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Using the former Salisbury Mall as a location for Rowan County government departments may be on hold for now, with the appeal of a Salisbury City Council special use permit denial pending, but county officials say the need for additional space still exists.

County manager Aaron Church expects the results of a space needs study to be ready in late November or early December. The study, being conducted by Charlotte based ADW Architects, is asking each county department a number of questions, including: activities that take place in current space, personnel in each department and how existing facilities enhance or hinder operations.

Don Bringle, who runs the county’s facilities maintenance department, said the architects have toured buildings and passed out questionnaires to departments.

The study is often associated with the purchase of the former Salisbury Mall, but board of commissioners chairman Jim Sides said the board first began discussing the idea more than a year before the mall was ever up for sale.

“It wasn’t like we were here just flying by the seat of our pants — the mall comes up for sale, we decide to buy it and now we’re trying to figure out what to do with it,” Sides said. “That’s not true, but it’s the impression that everybody’s got. I hoped [the study] would be done six months ago, three months ago and certainly before I left, but most likely it’s not.”

Sides said the space needs study coincided with a capital improvement plan.

“Can [our departments] operate the way they are? Sure,” Sides said. “Can we stack people on top of each other? Sure. It’s just not the best environment for people to work.”

Sides and other county officials frequently cite the Board of Elections, Veteran’s Services and the Department of Social Services as departments with needs for space.

“I’ve had numerous people tell me, particularly over the last year or two, that they’ve arrived at DSS and left without applying because the line was too long or they couldn’t find a place to park,” said commissioner Chad Mitchell. “When you see what we have out there and what we’re crammed into, any rational person will see that we need more space. Now, where the real argument comes is whether the rational solution is the mall and I won’t even get into that because it’s up to an individual’s personal perspective, but we need more space.”

Sides and DSS Director Donna Fayko have previous cited figures of 16,000 to 17,000 total clients per year in 2006 quickly ballooning to 26,000 per year for food stamps and 28,000 per year for Medicaid presently.

For the board of elections, it’s partially a matter of storing equipment.

Dozens of ballots and voting equipment crowded the offices of the board of elections leading up to the 2014 general election, creating small walkways for county employees to walk through.

“Anybody who walks through there now, today specifically, realizes that they don’t have enough space,” Mitchell said. “They don’t have enough space for training. They don’t have enough space to store their equipment.”

Another recent example of the county’s space needs is an Oct. 27 letter to Church from the N.C. Department of Public Safety.

“As you well know per North Carolina General Statues, it is the responsibility of the counties to provide suitable office space for the staff of the Division of community Corrections located in each specific county,” the letter states. “Once again we are very appreciate of our current office situation, but we urgently need additional office space to house our seven new officer positions.”

Because Rowan County received the letter recently, county officials and commissioners haven’t discussed a solution, Church said. Commissioner Mike Caskey says the recent letter is just an example of unexpected needs that could arise from the study and even state requirements.

“I think overall we are going to see other areas in need that we don’t even know about,” Caskey said. “To be honest, the mall may not be enough space; It sounds like a lot of space until you start putting stuff in it.”

The District Attorney’s Office and Clerk of Court are a few other departments that are funded by the state but require the county to provide work space.

Church says it’s unlikely the space needs study will wrap up in time for the current crop of commissioners’ final meeting, but said he plans to have an update or informational presentation at the commissioners’ Nov. 17 meeting — the last for Jon Barber, Sides and Mitchell.

County commissioners purchased the mall in late 2013 for $3.4 million.

Last month, the county was denied a special use permit for government services by the Salisbury City Council, as the mall sits within the city limits. The county planned for a denial an immediately began an appeal after the city council’s decision.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246