09/21/09 — County makes plan to move Health Department

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County makes plan to move Health Department

By Steve Herring
Published in News on September 21, 2009 1:46 PM

The slow economy has forced Wayne County to shelve most of its capital improvement plans for a least a year, but has not stopped the county from taking some tentative steps forward on at least one project.

Commissioners last week agreed to take $27,750 from the county's contingency fund for advanced planning on the former Masons department store building -- the old flea market store -- on William Street.

The goal is, possibly within three years, to have the renovated property ready to serve as the new home for the Health Department and Services on Aging, both of which are starved for space.

The money appropriated Tuesday will be used to hire Peterson and Eure and Associates of New Bern -- the same company the county employed for planning for the Jeffrey's Building.

The county earlier this summer completed a more-than-$800,000 renovation project on the Jeffrey's Building. The county inspections, planning and human resources departments were moved to the building to free up space in the county courthouse annex.

The county has completed a Phase I study in which it examined the structural integrity of the buildings on the William Street site to look for any problems, said Sue Farmer, the county's facilities services director.

It also provided the county with an idea of what it could put there, she said.

The next step will be the advanced planning.

"They will look at the property itself to see how we can blend in with the existing neighborhood. They will look at the site, buildings and how it could be laid out," Ms. Farmer said.

The study also will provide a budget and cost of doing the project.

While there is no timeline, Ms. Farmer said she is hopeful the project would take three years or less, depending on funding.

Commissioners voted in December to purchase the property with an eye toward renovations that would provide a new home for the Health Department and Services on Aging.

The power has been turned off at the building and county officials have said that it is in "fairly good shape."

The Masons property, as well as the purchase of the old Belk's department store in Mount Olive, are seen as an alternative to more expensive new buildings.

The Belk's building, purchased for $400,000 from Mount Olive College, will one day house Steele Memorial Library, which, like the other two departments, is outgrowing its space.

It has been estimated that it would cost the county nearly $35 million to construct a new building for the Health Department and Services on Aging. The county paid $800,000 for the 86,000-square-foot Masons building and property.

Services on Aging is located in an old bank building at 100 E. John St., which it shares with the Day Reporting Center. The Day Reporting Center is "encroaching" on the Services on Aging's space, and is not a "good fit" with the senior center, Ms. Farmer said.

The Health Department is located in the old hospital building on East Ash Street. Several outbuildings are used as well.

Moving all of the services under one roof would allow the county to sell some of the older outlying former hospital buildings. County Manager Lee Smith has called the old hospital building one of the least energy-efficient ones the county owns.

As such, selling the outbuildings and moving the Health Department would translate into more energy savings, he said.

The Masons property has a 400-space parking lot. In addition, since the county would not change the site's "footprint," it would not have to worry about meeting nitrogen runoff requirements -- a costly issue that could run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Adding to the site's attractiveness is access off Stronach Avenue as well as two entrance options off North William Street. It is on a major GATEWAY bus route and fiber cable is available off Stronach Avenue enabling the county to connect the building to the county system.