Wayne County plans to hire a Greenville architect firm to evaluate whether the County Office Building can be renovated or needs to be demolished.

The building, which is the old Wayne Memorial Hospital, houses the Wayne County Health Department and Department of Social Services.

Wayne County commissioners Tuesday morning authorized County Manager George Wood to negotiate a contract with MHA Works of Greenville for the study.

The county has been cobbling together a master facilities plan that would address a number of projects including the County Office Building in order to provide more space for the Health Department and Department of Social Services.

But before a decision can be made about renovation or a new building, the county first must determine which is more practical and financially sound, Wood said.

Also, once the Maxwell Regional Agricultural and Convention Center is completed, agencies at the Wayne Center will move there, Wood said.

The move would leave Wayne Center's U.S. Department of Agriculture office vacant and which could be used for the Department of Social Services.

Demolishing the adjacent N.C. Cooperative Extension Office would clear land where an additional building could meet Department of Social Services office needs, Wood said.

That in turn would open space at the County Office Building for the Health Department, he said.

The county received seven responses to its request for qualifications for architectural firms to perform the evaluation.

It was written such that the county could employ the firm to do the evaluation. If the county later decided to proceed with renovation or construction designs it could so without having to re-advertise if the county is satisfied with the firm's work on the evaluation study, Wood said.

The responses were reviewed by a committee consisting of Wood, Craig Honeycutt, assistant county manager, Kendall Lee, facilities services director, Davin Madden, public health director, and Noelle Woods, purchasing manager.

They selected four firms to interview last week before unanimously recommending MHA Works, Wood said.

The company has a "great deal" of experience in major renovation work on older buildings and in health care facilities, he said.

"This is a two-phase contract, and we will negotiate it that way -- one for this evaluation study and then, depending on what they come up with at your discretion you could then proceed on with full design whichever way we go," Wood said. "That is also at your discretion because we want to make sure that you are satisfied with the services you are getting. If so, we can move forward.

"The advantage of doing it this way is that we don't have to re-advertise and go through the selection process if you want to move forward with design."

There could be a delay in getting the report and proceeding with the phase two design for renovation or new building from a monetary standpoint, Wood said.

The board's Facilities Committee has said the project needs to be evaluated, but is not necessarily at the point that it is ready to move forward with the renovation of building, Wood said.

All of that was explained to the architects, he said.

"It may be that the architect determines that it is economically not to our advantage to do the renovation," Commissioner Joe Daughtery said. "That could be an outcome."

"We have asked them if that is the case, if it is not good for a Health Department, can it be used for an office building," Wood said. "If it is not good for either one, then obviously he is recommending that you take it down.

"But you would need to go in (and build) on the same site, and we have plenty of room if we need to. Just like we are doing at Meadow Lane School, you would build a new facility on that back parking lot. Then you would take this down and incorporate that area into the parking lot."