LUMBERTON — A relocation project years in the making is now months from completion.
Robeson County administrators expect to have staff moved into the former BB&T building at 500 N. Chestnut St. in Lumberton by January, and perhaps before the end of the current year. The building, constructed in the mid-1960s and dedicated in 1967, was originally home to Southern National Bank.
“Department leaders and staff have been an essential part of the planning of the move and office relocation,” said County Manager Ricky Harris, who said employees are “very excited about the move.” The move is expected to create a domino effect and free up space at the congested county courthouse.
Renovation work, projected to cost between $12 million and $13 million, has begun at the building. When the work is finished, six county departments will move to the building, which will then be called the Robeson County Administrative Complex. Those offices are now on 701 N. Elm St., where space is cramped, and the courthouse.
Harris has said the county will finance the project over 30 years and the $600,000 or so in annual payments will not force a tax increase.
“This move creates continuity between the County Manager’s Office and all the departments that move into the Robeson County Administrative Complex,” Harris said.
The building was donated to the county by the Hector MacLean family. MacLean’s family started a local bank that eventually became Southern National, which then merged with BB&T in 1995. The 64,655-square-foot building became available in 2011 after BB&T moved local executives to the bank’s corporate headquarters in Winston-Salem.
The family sold the building’s parking lot to the county for $615,000 plus the cost of closing.
What will be done with the vacated office space on Elm Street has not been decided although it has been floated as a potential destination, perhaps temporarily, for the central office of the Public Schools of Robeson County, which remains without a permanent home.
“Ultimately, decisions on all property is determined by the Robeson County Board of Commissioners,” Harris said. “The current county administration building would provide a great location for our Employee Wellness Center.”
The Wellness Division, complete with clinic and pharmacy, help keeps county employees healthy and would have room to grow at the offices on Elm Street.
Kellie Blue, an assistant county manager, is in charge of the renovation. Last week she was in Raleigh picking out colors and decor with the architect, Gensler Architects, an international architectural firm.
“That is my favorite part,” Blue said jokingly.
The county signed a contract in 2016 making Metcon the construction manager at risk, Blue said, which means it will oversee the project. Metcon is soliciting bids and making sure the bids come in within the budget.
Demolition work is ongoing inside the building, and signs warn passersby to stay clear. The building will retain its look from the outside for the most part, although the drive-though will be eliminated, and a green space with seating added.
“There’s been a ton of work going on in there,” Blue said.
Crews have performed asbestos abatement, checked for water damage, inspected interior walls, and checked the elevators, among other things, she said. Workmen have removed the old copiers and printers the county was storing in the building, and video gaming machines the county Sheriff’s Office was keeping there that had been seized.
Earlier this year, Raymond Cummings, chairman of the Board of Commissioners, told The Robesonian there were issues with financing at the building and it might not be ready for years. At the time, Cummings was pushing the Angel Exchange building at COMtech for use as a central office for the schools, and arguing the abandoned county offices might not be available for years.
But Harris has told The Robesonian the county has excellent credit and no issues with financing are expected.
The county anticipates borrowing money from a commercial bank. The county must first receive approval from the Local Government Commission, a division of the state Treasurer’s Office, to take on that amount of additional debt. That is considered routine.
Blue doesn’t know how many offices will be built inside the building. That depends on the individiual needs of each department moving into the building.
Blue does know that the first floor will contain the Board of Commissioners’ meeting chamber, Veterans Services and the Register of Deeds. The Tax Office will occupy the second floor. The third floor will be given to Human Resources and Computer Operations. The county attorney, county manager and assistant county managers, and Finance will be on the fourth floor.
The number of people who move into the building will depend on each department’s needs and the space available, she said.
The move will free up space at the nearby courthouse, where the Tax and Register of Deeds offices are now located.