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County’s space needs study likely won’t be released until early 2015

The newest crop of Rowan County commissioners likely won’t have a long-awaited space needs study until 2015.

The study, being conducted by Charlotte-based ADW Architects, asks 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. The space needs study is often associated with the county’s Salisbury Mall purchase, but outgoing commissioners say discussion about the study began more than a year ago, before the mall was purchased.

Rowan County Commission Vice Chairman Craig Pierce said the company told county officials in early November that the study was finished, but data collected didn’t include all county offices, such as the court system.

“We told the architect that we didn’t want a report that didn’t include [the court system],” Pierce said.

County Manager Aaron Church said the study wouldn’t be ready for the commissioners’ only scheduled December meeting — on Monday. Church said it would also be unlikely that the study would be ready for a second meeting, if commissioners approve a second meeting date. He said January is a more reasonable expectation for the architects to collect surveys from various departments and analyze data to determine future space needs.

Typically with a space needs study, Church said the commissioners don’t receive the raw survey. Instead, he said the county would receive “a big picture review” that would include the current space each department uses and needs at periodic stages in the future.

Church said the study would be reviewed by county officials to determine if there are any anomalies before being presented to county commissioners.

“I think what’s important is that it’s done in a manner to where the data is solid and it’s a good product more than meeting a certain deadline,” Church said. “There may be expectations, but as I understand it, there’s not a hard and fast deadline.”

Pierce, one of two commissioners who will stay on the board for two more years, said the delay isn’t necessarily negative, as it would give new commissioners time to settle into their roles.

“Even if it was completed, I don’t don’t think asking this new board that just got seated to digest something as complicated as a space needs study would be prudent,” Pierce said.

Incoming Commissioners Greg Edds and Judy Klusman differed in their opinions of the study not being ready by the first meeting in December. Edds, similar to Church, said it’s important for the architects to be thorough. Klusman said commissioners would need the study as soon as possible to set priorities.

“I think that the new commission needs it almost immediately, so it’ll be part of our priorities in setting out our vision for our work,” Klusman said.

County officials already have a short list of county departments that immediately need space. The most critical include the Rowan County Board of Elections and Veterans Service Office, Pierce said.

The commissioners’ original plan to provide space is on hold, as the Salisbury City Council denied a special use permit request. Commissioners have repeatedly stressed that the mall came a cheap per-square-footage cost and can be built to suit each county department’s space needs. The county is appealing the decision.

 Two other potential solutions to the space problem include a building once inhabited by the Department of Social Services and another off Mahaley Avenue.

Pierce said the old DSS building is not an option, since the county is looking to sell it to a private group that Pierce wouldn’t explicitly name. The Mahaley building needs at least $80,000 in repairs to its elevator. Pierce said the Mahaley building would also have to be made handicapped accessible.

“It’s not about determining what the study says. It’s figuring out how we can fund [moving departments],” Pierce said. “In this economy, we don’t have the property tax revenue or the sales tax to do a whole lot.”

Despite potential costs, whether at the former mall or another building, Pierce said the study would justify any expenses associated with providing space.

“The space needs study is more of a blueprint, not something that’s set in stone,” Pierce said. “All the commissioners are well aware of the issues that we have. For us to spend millions of taxpayer dollars, we have to justify to the taxpayers that this is the money we are going to need.”

Even without Veterans Services and Board of Elections,  county government’s list of departments that need space is already lengthy — Sheriff’s Office, Department of Social Services, Health Department and district attorney’s office. Both current and incoming county commissioners have said that the space needs study could reveal other departments — not currently known — that need space.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246

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