LUMBERTON — Robeson County’s longtime register of deeds is glad that the county commissioners have decided to move forward on the idea of giving the former BB&T building on Chestnut Street in downtown Lumberton a long-awaited facelift.
“We’re very excited about the transitioning,” said Vicki Locklear, whose department would be moved into the renovated building. “The courthouse needs more space and with us moved into the BB&T building that can happen.”
On a more personal level, Locklear said that she loves the architecture of the three-floor, 64,000-square-foot building that once served as the headquarters of Southern National Bank, which is now BB&T. It also had a restaurant on the third floor that served as a gathering spot for people who worked or shopped downtown.
“It’s an historical landmark,” Locklear said. “I don’t want to see that building deteriorating. I want to see it renovated so it can be used by our citizens.”
Shelena Smith, Robeson County’s clerk of Superior Court, said that moving county offices out of the courthouse would provide more usable space for the county’s court system.
“We absolutely could use more space,” Smith said. “The number of cases in our court system is growing every year.”
The county purchased the former BB&T property in September 2011 for $650,000. According to County Manager Ricky Harris, that price was for the parking lot since the actual three-floor, 64,000-square-foot building was donated to the county by the Hector MacLean family.
The county eventually would like to see the building house the Tax Department, Register of Deeds, County Manager’s office, computer operations, Finance and Human Resources departments, as well as offices for the county attorney and Veterans Services. The county’s wellness center could also possibly be moved there.
During the commissioners’ annual retreat in Raleigh in early April, John F. Sinnett and Rhonda Angerio, both of the Raleigh-based architectural firm of SmithSinnett, presented the commissioners with an update to the plan the firm developed five years ago for renovating the structure. The total cost is now about $9 million, up from the estimated 2011 figure of $6.2 million.
The architects told the commissioners that the increased cost for the project reflects a 3 percent per year inflation rate and a contingency of 10 percent on the building budget; additional architectural and engineering fees; and the cost of providing fixtures, furniture and equipment for the facility.
Changes in the original renovation plans, Sinnett said, are the result of several factors, including new code requirements that have come into play since 2011; the need to add sprinklers; water infiltration remediation and repair; mechanical and electrical updates; and the need for roof repairs or replacement.
The commissioners on Monday asked Harris and Kellie Blue, the county’s finance director, to look at the proposed renovation plan and determine funding options. Harris said he will bring information back to the commissioners in September.
Commissioner David Edge made the motion to proceed with the renovation project at Monday’s board meeting. Edge, along with Commissioner Tom Taylor, led efforts to purchase the property.
“I didn’t know I was going to make the motion myself until I did it,” Edge told The Robesonian. “I just thought it is time we move forward with this.”
Commissioners Raymond Cummings and Berlester Campbell were the only two commissioners voting against moving forward immediately with the project.
“‘We need more information, both general and financial,” Cummings told The Robesonian. “That’s why I voted no. I’m not against renovating the building. We definitely need more space.”
Campbell said he understands the need for county office space, but said that Edge was wrong to have brought the issue for a vote until the commissioners had a chance to “discuss the pros and cons” of the plan.
“We haven’t even discussed this since our retreat in April, and he (Edge) wasn’t even there,” Campbell said. “I had no idea this was going to come up at our meeting. I was blindsided and that’s not the way things should be done.”
Campbell said the timing is not right for the commissioners to move forward with such an expensive project. The issues of financing new school construction and school consolidation are still alive, he said.
“The issues with our schools are not over,” Campbell said. “We need to end discussion and close that chapter before we jump into anything new.”
Charles Britt, the county’s General Services manager, said with low interest rates the time is right for the county to move ahead with the renovations. He said that one means of funding could come through a 2 percent loan from the United States Department of Agriculture.
“I don’t think you are going to find an interest rate lower than 2 percent,” he said.
On Wednesday, Britt gave Commissioner Jerry Stephens, the board’s chairman, Commissioners Tom Taylor and David Edge and a reporter for The Robesonian a walk-through of the building.
“I didn’t know there was so much potential for this building,” Stephens said. “This is a good building. There’s more potential here than I thought.”
“This is long overdue,” Taylor said when asked about proposed renovations. “When all of the county offices are here it will relieve crowding at the courthouse … . You know a lot of people don’t like having to go through metal detectors just to go pay their taxes. It’s time we do what’s needed to make a courthouse a courthouse and an administrative building an administrative building.”
Edge said that in the renovations of the building will ease the tax burden on county taxpayers in the long run.
“We’ve got buildings we are now paying rent for all over the county,” Edge said. “When our offices are centralized in one place we won’t be paying that rent. We will be saving money.”
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.