The Cumberland County Board of Commissioners on Monday got an update on the projected space needs for county government over the next 20 years.
The cost of renovating existing spaces and constructing new facilities to house county government services ranged from $131.4 million to $166.9 million, depending on a number of options available to the county.
The update is part of the county’s Comprehensive Space Needs Analysis and Master Plan. The county hired the Charlotte architectural firm Creech & Associates in 2021 to conduct the site and space analysis. The study’s purpose is to give the county the information needed to create a facilities master plan that includes the design and construction of a new general government services center, and recommend which other county-owned facilities need to be renovated and modernized. The type and extent of the renovations at other facilities would determine the size of the proposed general government services center.
Design architects Natalie Stenger of Creech & Associates and James Beight of Dewberry Architects gave the commissioners the update and options available to the county in the first draft of the facilities master plan. The 73-page presentation can be found at the following link: https://creech-design.sharefile.com/d-s100ba0037df342489395a8d4ce681144.
Among the options presented were:
Another option is moving the administrative offices — the county manager, board clerk and county attorney — out of the Judge E. Maurice Braswell Cumberland County Courthouse and having the court system occupy the entire building. Constructing a sixth floor onto the five-story building was another option given. It would allow the consolidation of all courthouse-related business in one building.
Commissioner Jeannette Council questioned the need for more courtroom space, adding that not all courtrooms are in constant use.
Stenger said the firm interviewed 27 department heads and surveyed 11 county-owned buildings or county-rented spaces or suites consisting of about 325,000 square feet.
“We didn’t want to design a building for just today’s needs,” she said.
The study takes into account growth for at least 20 years. Stenger said they used data over 10 years from the U.S. Census, N.C. Office of State Budget and Management, commercial building permits, and residential building permits to project county government growth. The firm’s projection growth methodology is based on the notion that staff will grow at similar rates to the population.
Based on those growth projections, Stenger said the county currently needs a 37% increase in space and a 56% increase in space over the next 20 years.
County commissioners pushed back on several space projection estimates. Both Chairman Glenn Adams and Commissioner Jimmy Keefe, who participated remotely, said that work from home has become prevalent, thus reducing the need for additional office space.
Stenger assured the commissioners the work-from-home trends were taken into consideration.
Commissioners at times had difficulty following the options presented by Stenger and Breight and continuously asked for clarifications on proposed movements of employees, departments, and facilities proposed in the study.
Keefe asked county staff whether the county could afford the proposals. Finance Director Vicky Evans said the county has earmarked $80 million for the proposed government services building and $70 million for the Judge E. Maurice Braswell Cumberland County Courthouse renovations.
Adams closed the meeting without asking for board action regarding the presentation.
“There’s been a lot of information given at one time,” Adams said.
He suggested that commissioners “digest the information” and come back with recommendations.
In other business, the commissioners voted on two proposed amendments to the June 6 budget ordinance. The first amendment removed $12,750 from the budget ordinance for the Second Harvest Food Bank from the community funding budget. The second amendment added $12,750 to the community funding budget for the Second Harvest Food Bank.
The issue requiring the vote is a result of a recent state law that does not allow public officials to award money to nonprofit agencies with which they are associated.
Adams, who recused himself from voting on both amendments, serves on the board of the Second Harvest Food Bank.
“This (law) threw the whole state for a loop,” he said.
Jason Brady covers Cumberland County government for CityView TODAY. He can be reached at email@example.com.