02/15/12 — County weighs future projects

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County weighs future projects

By Steve Herring
Published in News on February 15, 2012 1:46 PM

It will be another three months before a possible capital improvement program is ready for Wayne County commissioners to consider, but in the meantime the county is moving forward on three projects -- construction at Norwayne and Eastern Wayne middle schools and new homes for the county's Services on Aging and Steele Memorial Library in Mount Olive.

The schools projects got under way in November and is scheduled for completion in the spring of 2013. However, the library and Services on Aging projects will require additional votes by commissioners before actual construction can start.

Waiting in the wings are a host of other possible projects including a new jail and renovations at the county courthouse, a new home for the Health Department and Department of Social Service, a new library to serve the northern part of the county, an industrial shell building, agricultural center and several school projects.

Wayne County Manager Lee Smith briefed commissioners about the possible projects Tuesday during the second day of their two-day planning retreat.

Smith said he was not naming the possible projects in any particular order and that no official capital improvement plan had been prepared.

What he was listing was simply a "what-if" scenario, he said. It will be up to commissioners to decide what is needed and when and to assign priorities, he added.

They will be asked to do so in May.

Community involvement is important to the process, Smith said, noting that community involvement had driven the Mount Olive library project.

All told the list of possible projects totals more than $270 million over the next seven to eight years -- the most expensive being a new jail that could carry a $65 million price tag. Depending on funding, all of the projects could require up to an additional 13 cents on the county tax rate at some point over that time span.

Smith has said there is no tax increase projected for next year. No projects, or means to fund them, have been officially proposed.

One thing that the public needs to realize is that the jail is not something that the county wants to do just to build one, county commission Chairman John Bell said.

Overcrowding is a chronic issue at the jail and the county cannot afford to sit and wait and let the state take over, Bell said. Once that happens, the county would lose control and the price would skyrocket, he said.

One way the county might be able to delay such an expensive project is to rent jail beds from Lenoir County, Smith said.

Smith said he and Wayne County Sheriff Carey Winders have been talking with Lenoir County officials about such an agreement.

The county is already facing expensive renovations at the jail that was built in the 1990s, Smith said. Those include a new roof and heating and air conditioning.

Commissioner Steve Keen asked Smith if the jail plan had taken into consideration other uses for the old jail if a new one is built.

Smith said that the $64 million did include renovations that would allow the county to convert the jail into office spaces.

The county will be able to save money on some projects by using existing buildings and property, he said.

One of the largest is the need for a new home for the Health Department and Department of Social Service, Smith said. Both are housed in the old hospital building at the corner of East Ash and North Herman streets.

Within the next year or so the county will have to spend $200,000 for improvements at the building to meet code requirements.

Building a new facility on a new site would cost about $24 million, he said. However, by utilizing county-owned property on North William Street, the cost will be about $12 million, he said.

Also, the existing paved area on the property means the county won't face additional costs associated with controlling nitrogen runoff -- a savings of $950,000, he said.

Once the project is completed the old building would be demolished, Smith said. Developers have approached the county about possibly purchasing the land once that has happened.

Possible school projects include:

* Central attendance area, $6.5 million

* Spring Creek Elementary, $3.85 million

* Charles B. Aycock High School, $6.6 million

* New Spring Creek and Grantham schools, $35.7 million

* New northern elementary school, $29.6 million.

Smith said that while speculative shell buildings are not popular with the public, they are one of the first things prospective new companies look at. A 100,000-square-foot shell building would cost $4 million.

Commissioners also continue to be interested in an agriculture center. The original idea was for a $7.5 million, 60,000-square-foot building, Smith said. That grew to 125,000 square feet when it appeared that the county and city of Goldsboro might consider a joint venture.

However, Goldsboro has gone off in a different direction, he said. As such the size would be scaled back to 90,000 square feet, he said.

A facility that size could be preferable to building larger school gyms since events, like graduations, could be held there instead of in the gyms.