02/25/13 — New Mount Olive library still on county's to do list

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New Mount Olive library still on county's to do list

By Steve Herring
Published in News on February 25, 2013 1:46 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- It appears there soon could be some movement on a new Steele Memorial Library in Mount Olive, nearly a year after the previous Wayne County Board of Commissioners approved a $3.5 million budget amendment for the project.

The new Board of Commissioners this past week approved another budget amendment, this one for $4,900 that will be paid for by the Friends of Steele Memorial Library.

The money is part of a request from commissioners and their Facilities Committee to have JLT (Contracting) of Snow Hill to reprice the Mount Olive library project to make sure that it is within budget and to bring that back prepared for RATIO (the project architectural firm) for potential bidding within the next few weeks, County Manager Lee Smith said.

Smith said he had spoken with a JLT official who had told him the study should not take more than three weeks, and probably would be back to the county in less than two weeks.

"Based on preliminaries they think they will be able to bring that in within budget," Smith said. "We are expecting to get them back within a couple of weeks."

The project's status has been a concern of library supporters, particularly after earlier meetings between the Facilities Committee and library supporters, and with Mount Olive Mayor Ray McDonald Sr. and Town Manager Charles Brown.

Rumors began to surface after those sessions that the county wanted to scale back the project.

Mount Olive officials and commissioners have said that is not the case and that the library remains a top priority for the county.

"I think we have all felt that the estimate itself was probably a little high," said Lynn Williams who helped spearhead the local group that raised more than $350,000 for the project. "I think that (repricing) is a good thing and a good move forward. I am looking forward to seeing how the estimates come in and that soon thereafter the expectation is that they would move forward.

"We have had good conversations with commissioners in recent weeks about the project. (Commissioners) Mr. (Ray) Mayo, certainly, and Steve (Keen) both have voiced their support for the project and desire to move forward. I am optimistic that we will be moving forward fairly soon."

The $3.5 million was appropriated in June 2012 with the idea of having the project ready to bid in July and possibly awarded in October 2012.

It didn't happen.

During some preliminary work, asbestos was discovered and the county paid $32,400 for asbestos abatement. It also has spent $2,176 to close an underground storage tank, $7,325 for a contract review and $650 for a sanitary sewer survey.

When the project hadn't gone out before the new board took office in December it was decided the new members should be updated before moving forward.

Also, veteran commissioner and library supporter J.D. Evans died in December. Ed Cromartie of Mount Olive was appointed to Evans' seat on the commission and library board.

In addition, commissioners have revamped their Facilities Committee and are in the process of hiring a facilities manager and completing a total facility analysis that includes Steele Memorial Library. The study is expected to be completed within the next 90 days.

The project hit yet another snag when project estimates came in over budget.

The initial project estimate was $3,293,799 to renovate the former Belk's department store to house the library. Another $500,000 was included for furniture.

However, updated figures submitted in December had the total estimated cost at $4,715,389. The new total included $674,899 already spent on the project, plus an additional $56,660 in "potential costs" that were not part of the initial estimate -- $35,000 for parking lots and $20,000 for warehouse repairs.

The new total on just the building reflects an additional $145,818 for IT equipment and $44, 273 to install it. That amount would be less if the work is done in-house.

The $674,899 already spent includes the $401,150 the county paid for the property over a two-year period between 2008 and 2009. It also includes $231,198 for architectural fees paid for through funds raised by the Friends of Steele Memorial Library fundraising committee. More than $350,000 was raised, with up to $311,000 earmarked for the architectural fees.

The library project is expected to take approximately 18 months to complete.