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County debates old hospital, old school

 

SARAH LOWERY

Staff Writer

 

What do to with an old hospital and an old school in Lincolnton were at the center of attention Monday night as the Lincoln County Board of Commissions met for a special work session.

Having previously delayed action on both, commissioners talked in more detail about both the old hospital building on Gamble Drive and the Oaklawn facility, though a vote was not taken on either.

Although some commissioners balked at the price tags for each project, the fate of the hospital may be an open issue until an end-of-April deadline.

But the majority of the board appears to oppose spending the funds needed to restore Oaklawn, and is expected to vote against renovation at its regular session on Monday.

 

Hospital

Most of the session was spent on the old hospital, which has been a contentious item at past meetings. As the Times-News previously reported, commissioners were presented with the proposed schematic design for renovations to convert the building into county offices in January, and have been discussing options for more than three years.

The former Carolinas Medical Center-Lincoln building was left vacant and returned to the county when the hospital built a new state-of-the-art facility in Boger City, which opened in 2010.

County Manager George Wood said the purpose of Monday’s session was to determine whether the county should move forward with the architectural design and other construction documents for the building and, therefore, whether to put that cost, roughly $766,000, into the coming year’s budget.

Otherwise, he noted, the project would be delayed for another year.

He discussed the phasing and noted that renovations to the courthouse and the Citizens Center — which would eventually serve as additional space for the courthouse under the plan — could be spread out as needed.

Those renovations would bring the overall estimated cost of the project to around $25 million, with a roughly $15 million price tag for the old hospital renovation alone.

Commissioner Carrol Mitchem expressed his concern with the cost of the project, saying “there’s wants and there’s needs.” He additionally had reservations about the amount of allotted space granted to the county’s Health Department as a result of the space-needs study.

Chairman Alex Patton responded, saying he thinks additional space for the courthouse “is a need.” He recommended they get started on the project while construction costs are low.

Space for future growth also came up in the discussion, though Commissioner Jim Klein noted that the schematics for the building had already been reviewed and that the purpose of the session was to determine whether they should move forward.

Commissioner George Arena responded that he was asking the big-picture questions.

“I don’t see a big block of space reserved for future use,” he stressed, later requesting square-footage comparisons of departmental space for before and after completion of the project in order to justify the cost to the public.

Commissioner Carl Robinson also requested that commissioners be provided with any cost savings from moving out of all current county buildings and that a contingency plan be built in.

Wood told commissioners that he will need a final decision on whether to proceed with design development by the end of April in order to designate funds for next year’s budget.

Oaklawn

Also during the work session, commissioners discussed at length the state of the Oaklawn facility, an old school in central Lincolnton, though a decision on the building won’t be made until Monday’s regular meeting.

A 10-year lease on the building, which is currently not in use, between the county and the Coalition of Black Churches is up, and Wood noted that several groups, including the Boys & Girls Club, had expressed interest in it. The Head Start Program is housed in an adjacent facility.

However, Wood said the commissioners were not determining who would go into the building at this time. Instead, they first have to make a decision on whether it’s “worth fixing” and, if so, who should pay for it.

Jim Stewart of Stewart-Cooper-Newell Architects presented the results of an analysis of the building, specifically stating that the roof was in poor condition, the walls were rotting and falling in from water penetration and there is some lead paint and asbestos present in the building.

“The building is in extremely poor condition,” he said, noting that it would be “quite an undertaking” to renovate.

He estimated it would cost roughly $484,000 in total.

Assistant County Manager Martha Lide noted that one option would be to apply for a North Carolina Catalyst Program grant for up to $500,000, with Wood noting that they would need to know by early April whether to pursue it. They would not be notified until September, however, if they are awarded the grant.

Patton said that even with renovations, the building would not be an “ideal facility.” Robinson added that it was in “a lot worse shape” than he originally thought and asked where the line would be drawn if other organizations requested financial help in constructing their own buildings.

Mitchem also expressed concern with any additional and unexpected costs in renovating the building, including making it more energy-efficient.

The cost to demolish the building would be approximately $30,000, which Patton suggested as a possibility. He noted that the county could then apply for the grant for new construction, decide who will lease the property and get that group to raise their own additional funds for a new facility.

Klein said they would have to weigh the cost of saving the building versus the historical value it has had to the community. Wood noted that to some from the interested groups involved, the building is extremely important for sentimental reasons, whereas others are more concerned with having a functional building.

Arena said he was opposed to the county getting involved in the “new-construction business” and recommended they go after the grant and proceed with fixing the building up.

Mitchem addressed Stewart, saying the county had “spent good money” for their information.

“I think it’s not cost-effective to renovate the building,” Stewart responded.

Patton then closed the discussion, saying that it looks like Monday’s vote will be 3-2 for not renovating Oaklawn.

 

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