01/05/11 — Wayne County delays buildings

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Wayne County delays buildings

By Steve Herring
Published in News on January 5, 2011 1:46 PM

Fear and uncertainty over a weak economy and of a state budget with a projected $3.7 billion gap have halted, at least for the next six months, Wayne County's plans for a new home for its Health Department and Services on Aging.

Commissioners Tuesday had been poised to award an $838,480 contract to Greenville-based MHAworks, one of nine architectural firms that responded to the county's request for bids on the project.

The contract was never discussed and was removed from the agenda at the request of County Manager Lee Smith.

Smith said state economic forecasts he heard at a Monday conference were not good. He asked that the board delete the item from the agenda and delay action until "we know what the Legislature is going to do."

"I am talking May or June," Smith said. "I am just afraid to sign any contracts starting any projects of that size. It is a $13 million or $14 million project.

"I have been asking and pushing for a new Health Department and new Services on Aging, but right now I will tell you that I am fearful because until I see what the state economy, the state budget is going to do... I had rather hold off. I hate to do that, but I just think it is the thing to do."

Smith said the project would be revisited as he and his staff move through preparation of the new budget.

"I am just really concerned about the economy," he said. "I hate it for the staff, our citizens and our clients."

For more than a year, county officials have talked about renovating the former 86,000-square-foot Masons department store property the county purchased for $800,000 on North William Street.

Once renovated it would house the Health Department and Services on Aging. The $13 million to $14 million project was seen as a bargain in comparison to the nearly $45 million estimated that would be needed to construct a new building.

The Health Department and Department of Social Services currently share space at the County 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.

In conjunction with the Masons project, the county had planned to look at possible renovations at the County Office Building.

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

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

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.

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