12/31/10 — County to consider architect for Masons building

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County to consider architect for Masons building

By Steve Herring
Published in News on December 31, 2010 1:46 PM

Wayne County could be ready to go to bid within nine to 12 months on what is expected to be a $14 million project that would provide a new home for the county Health Department and Services on Aging.

That timeline will hinge somewhat on what action county commissioners take Tuesday on an $838,480 contract with a Greenville architectural firm.

The firm, MHAworks, was one of nine that responded to the county's request for architectural bids on the project that involves the renovation of the old Masons department store property on North William Street.

Commissioners will consider action on the contract when they hold their first meeting of the new year on Tuesday. The meeting will be held in the commissioners' meeting room on the fourth floor of the county courthouse annex. An agenda briefing will get under way at 8 a.m. followed by the meeting at 9 a.m.

MHAworks officials spoke to commissioners in August, briefing them on projects the company has been involved with, including East Carolina University and UNC Hospitals.

"We are pretty much waiting on commissioners," said Sue Farmer, county facilities director. "They (MHAworks) are ready to go at a moment's notice. I think we would within the next 12 months be ready to start the bidding process.

"Construction? It is possible we could be looking at a turnkey within 30 to 36 months at maximum. That is being conservative," she said.

The Health Department currently shares space at the county Administration Office Building (the old hospital building) on East Ash Street at Herman Street.

The volume of traffic at the Health Department is a concern as well as the layout of the building -- it is spread across three floors.

Services on Aging is located downtown in a former bank building at 100 E. John St. and shares space with the court system's Day Reporting Center.

County officials have said that a growing Day Reporting Center is "encroaching" on the Services on Aging's space, and is not a good fit with the senior center.

As progress begins on the renovation project the county will turn its eye towards the administration office building and possible renovations there, Ms. Farmer said.

Moving the Health Department will free up two floors for use by the Department of Social Services allowing all of that agency's offices to be in one building.

Currently, some of those offices are housed in outbuildings near the administration office building. County officials said that will allow the county to close those less energy-efficient buildings.

County officials have talked for more than a year about the William Street property renovation and relocation project.

It had been estimated that it would cost the county nearly $45 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.

The county has applied for a $500,000 Hope grant through the North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center for the project. Another $500,000 will be sought that can be used on building renovations.

At the August meeting, MHAworks founder and President Michael Hining said his company would provide virtual visualizations of how the project would look before it would be built.

Hining said at least a portion of the roof at the Masons building would need to be replaced, possibly more. Also, the building does not need the large (400-space) parking lot, he said.

Also, since the site's William Street property's "footprint" would not change, the county would not have to contend with meeting nitrogen runoff requirements that could run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Adding to the site's appeal 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, enabling the county to connect the building to the county communications system.