07/12/04 — Schools face competition for building funds

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Schools face competition for building funds

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on July 12, 2004 1:59 PM

When the Wayne County commissioners began talking about a school building program last fall, the key question was "what can we afford?"

When they talk about schools this fall, they will also consider "what else do we need?"

Classrooms will compete with jail cells, office space, a new health department and a new animal shelter for county dollars.

The commissioners agreed last week to hire Davenport & Company LLC, a financial firm headquartered in Richmond, Va., to figure out how to pay for large projects. The consultants will be working with the county's financial information and its six-year capital improvements plan, which was approved as part of the 2004-05 budget.

Davenport is expected to make recommendations this fall.

The commissioners have asked the firm not to consider options that would require property tax increases. That will force the consultants and ultimately the commissioners to make choices.

In March, the Board of Education asked the commissioners to finance an $82 million building program. The list includes renovations or expansions at most county schools, new elementary and middle schools, and community high schools in Grantham and Mount Olive.

But the county has several of its own looming projects, some of which will be expensive.

The jail poses the biggest unknown. Completed in 1994, it was designed for 200 inmates but has typically been overcrowded for four years. It's currently averaging 225 inmates per day, which strains security.

The commissioners have hired another firm to look at jail needs; its recommendations are due later this summer. But county officials believe the detention center may need an additional 10,000 square feet.

One possibility is the county will relocate the sheriff's offices. That would free up almost 8,700 square feet that could be renovated and added to the jail. County officials would prefer to keep prisoners together and with easy access to the courthouse.

But then the Sheriff's Office would need new offices. The capital plan suggest the county buy another building, around 11,000 square feet, in downtown Goldsboro for the sheriff's use.

Another potentially huge expense will be the relocation of either Social Services or Health departments out of the Wayne County Office Building.

Even though Eastpointe mental health services moved its Goldsboro offices to the Borden Building, the former county hospital is still inefficient and prone to problems with patient confidentiality, officials say. County officials believe that they will be forced by 2006-2007 to consider a complete renovation or a new building.

Relocating the Health Department would be more logical, officials say. They will look at the Wayne Memorial Drive area, which already houses many physicians' offices and the hospital, as a possible site for a new office.

Other projects in the capital improvements plan include:

*Renovation of the Jeffreys Building, corner of John and Mulberry streets. The county will move the Planning, Inspections, Environmental Health and Veterans Services offices to the first floor this year. In 2005-2006, the county wants to open the third floor for the County Manager's Office, Finance Department, and Board of Commissioners' chambers.

*Reallocation of space in the courthouse and its annex as those departments move out. The district attorney's office and the court system will get more room. This should meet their space needs for the next 10 to 15 years, county officials have said.

*A new animal shelter, most likely on Clingman Street in Goldsboro near the city's garage. The 10,000-square-foot building is being planned. The county will seek bids this fall, with construction to begin in 2005.

*Additional space at the Wayne Center and Farm Services agencies.

*Renovation of the second floor of the Services on Aging building to allow additional offices and storage space. The county also plans to create more parking for the senior center's use.

*Conversion of the Wayne County law library, on the lawn of the courthouse, into conference room space. This will give the county more flexibility to hold after-hour meetings without having to open the entire courthouse annex.