LAURINBURG — City officials said they will look at ways to scale down costs of a proposed municipal complex, but also argued that they cannot overlook safety issues at existing facilities.
The council voted unanimously Tuesday to hold a public input session at 6 p.m. on Oct. 11 with the architectural firm, construction firm, financial consultants and residents. The location of the input session has not been determined.
Tuesday’s decision came after three people, representing a delegation of residents opposed to the project, reiterated concerns about a new building that could cost as much as $10.8 million. The group urged the city not to spend money on a new building, but instead renovate the buildings already in use by the city or relocate to an existing building.
Currently city employees are housed in the Barrett Building, a 1920s house that was renovated by the city in the early 1990s and in a nearby building that serves as the police department and utility collection office was built in the 1950s.
Council member Dee Hammond said there are serious safety concerns with both buildings.
Part of the input session will include a report by a county building inspector on any code violations at the buildings, according to Hammond, who made the motion.
“The police department — that building has been bandaged — it has wires coming out of the roof,” Hammond said. “There is no sprinkler system in that building. Even to renovate that building; before it can be renovated, it would have to be brought up to code which, who knows how much that would cost?”
Hammond said the building that houses the police department and utility payment department also has a bad roof.
“The roof has been patched so many times,” Hammond said, “and there’s mold around some of the windows.”
Council member J.D. Willis said that he does not want to spend millions on a new building, but added that there is a need for better, not necessarily larger, facilities. The proposed facility would house all city departments under one roof.
“I’m not so much hung up on the need for additional space as I am about the safety of the buildings. That building (police department) almost caught on fire and would have burned down several months ago had someone not caught the smoke in the electric room,” Willis said. “The building is not safe, it will never be conducive to modern technology because the wiring is messed up. The police department building is just a disaster.”
Just because the city can borrow up to $11.1 million without having to raise taxes, Willis said, doesn’t mean Laurinburg should.
“I would never vote to borrow $11.1 million. Nowhere close to that,” Willis said.
Council member Drew Williamson said no one on council wants to overspend on the project.
“I don’t have a particular figure in mind,” Williamson said. “I think we are all very concerned about the last figure we were given. I think it’s worthwhile for us to take a really hard look at what our needs are.”
Williamson said it is a good time to consider the project with current interest rates low and the city’s lack of debt.
“I know it’s been very controversial and I just feel like we need to see it through its final conclusion and see what we think we can do and take it from there,” Williamson said.
But resident Frank Evans continues to argue that the project is unwarranted. Evans, who hopes to run for city council next year, has helped organize opposition to the proposed facility.
“We do not need to build anything,” Evans said. “We’re running fine now — we don’t need anything else to run the operation.”
Evans also expressed concerns that if the city ties up its money having to pay back a loan, there will be no money for raises for city employees.
Still Hammond said the project has been in the works for a long time before anyone raised objections.
“We had nine meetings before anybody ever came. The first person who came to object to that building was on Nov. 10, 2015,” Hammond said. “We can go in there and put a coat of paint on it; we can do this and that — a few cosmetic changes, but that’s still not going to help the safety of the employees.”
Council also asked City Manager Charles Nichols to seek a simpler design from Creech and Associates, the architectural firm. City staff are also expected to take a closer look at proposed floor plans and determine what is actually needed. Hammond also wants to see a cost estimate without new furniture, adding that the staff can use existing furniture.
Nichols said the city has so far spent just a little more than $127,000 on the initial phase of an architectural design and a pre-construction contract. There is an additional $108,000 set aside for plans if the project moves forward, he said.
Williamson said the city council could have done a better job providing concrete examples of the issues that led to the space studies in the first place.
“I think our citizens need to hear that information, I think council needs to hear that information,” he said.
Reach Terri Ferguson Smith at 910-506-3169.