04/17/13 — County looking at new ag center

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County looking at new ag center

By Steve Herring
Published in News on April 17, 2013 1:46 PM

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A worker makes repairs to a door at the Wayne Center at the corner of George and Chestnut streets.

The committee responsible for the original 2006 proposal for an $11.6 million regional agricultural center in Wayne County is being revived to update the plan before a decision is made on the hundreds of thousands of dollars in repairs needed at the Wayne Center.

And despite unsuccessful attempts in 2007 and 2009, county leaders once again are planning to ask state legislators to help fund the project. The county did get $200,000 for the study from the state thanks to legislation introduced by former Sen. John Kerr in 2005-06.

The issue was discussed by county commissioners at a Facilities Committee meeting last week.

"We pulled the original study done some years ago by Steve Allen," Wayne County Manager Lee Smith said. "It (planning committee) is now being revived. We met with Mr. Allen. We are asking him to take a look at updating that plan. It is very good. It was about 65,000-66,000 square feet -- a complete regional ag center that has all ag services.

"This is a larger Wayne Center. We wanted to have something as green as possible, but that was affordable. Sometimes you can get so green that it doesn't pay. Mr. Allen is giving us a price back."

Smith said there is about $181,000 left of the money obtained with Kerr's help.

The original study was less than $20,000, Smith said, and Allen, president of Charlotte-based Solutions for Local Government, has said the update will cost less than that.

"That will include doing interviews with people, particularly those involved in agricultural offices," Smith said.

Smith said he had left the $11 million in his list of possible building projects since that was what was in the old study. That was back during a period of 2006-07 when costs were "real expensive," Smith said.

The original plan called for the center to be built on a plot of about 10 acres near Cherry Hospital.

The center would house the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service, the Farm Service Agency, the Division of Soil and Water Conservation, the Cherry Farm administrative unit, the Center for Environmental Farming Systems, the area office for the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the regional offices of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Most of those offices are now located in the Wayne Center.

"The other reason that we need to talk about this is the Wayne Center itself and we have got to do some work," Smith said. "How far do you go if you think you are not going to be there?"

County Facilities Director Milford Smith said it would be "costly" to put the Wayne Center back into good service. Just the parking lot alone will cost $190,000 to $200,000 to resurface, he said. Another $222,000 is needed for roofing, electrical work and other projects, he said.

"If we are looking at moving out shortly, say in three years, that $222,000 can be reduced by probably a third," Milford Smith said. "But if we are going to stay there long term there is some money to be spent."

The old windows in the building would be costly to replace because they would have to be specially ordered, he said. The same is true for the millwork inside the building that was specially made.

"Yes it is a good solid foundation, but if we are going to use it we need to know that so we can do a series of two or three years of bringing it back to condition," Milford Smith said.

If the county upgrades beyond a certain percentage even more work will be required, Lee Smith said.

"At some point in our spending on that building in particular we are going to have to redo the ADA (American with Disabilities Act) compliance and that will not only be expensive, but a nightmare because it is on a hill," Milford Smith said.

"Really, when I said what can it be used for, at some point you have go to walk away from a piece of property," said Commissioner Wayne Aycock.

During the original study, Goldsboro was in a lot of discussion about its downtown master plan, Lee Smith said. The city was talking about a recreation center and other projects, he said.

At one point the city might have had an interest in it, he said.

"Would they have a use for it?" he said. "I think you (Aycock) make a good point. We need look at should it be reconditioned. Or do we have a need for it?

"You do make another really good point that sometimes you do have to say, 'We are done' with that and, 'We are going to sell the property.'"

The Wayne Center is one of the busiest buildings the county owns, Milford Smith said.

"I think that we need to do the minimum to that facility right now and if something changes in the future we can always go back and do the major," said committee chairman and Commissioner Ray Mayo.