The county commissioners have initiated a process for constructing an emergency services center and a new Wilkes County Office Building, as well as renovating the current County Office Building and moving the Wilkes Health Department there.
In their March 16 meeting, the Wilkes commissioners unanimously approved a resolution that outlines undertaking the three projects in phases with the “design-build” construction method.
As authorized by state law, design-build means a single company is responsible for all architectural, engineering and construction work under a contract with a state or local government entity. Design-build proponents say it helps design and construction professionals work together better.
The commissioners also approved a reimbursement resolution saying the county will spend a maximum of $30 million on the three projects.
County Manager John Yates said the resolution allows the county to pay itself back with money borrowed. Yates said the projects must be financed one at a time regardless of the order in which they’re undertaken, but can be combined later for financing.
Yates said the design-build process starts with the county requesting qualifications from firms that both design and construct buildings.
Responding companies will be ranked and the county will negotiate design and construction costs with the one chosen, he said, adding that facility needs and how to address them will be discussed then also.
Yates said this process won’t cost anything and will result in a proposed contract with a price, followed by commissioners deciding whether to move ahead by approving the contract.
County Attorney Tony Triplett said statutes require certain written criteria with design-build and the resolution provides this. He said design-build is an alternative to hiring an architect to design a facility, putting the project out for construction bids and approving the lowest responsible bid.
Triplett added that approving the design-build resolution didn’t commit the commissioners to anything. He, Yates and County Clerk Sarah Call prepared the three-page document.
The design-build resolution lists construction of an emergency services center “as soon as possible” on part of the county-owned Call property in Wilkesboro as the first phase. The site is along Call Street, near where it intersects with Oakwoods Road.
The resolution said the new facility will include the main Wilkes Emergency Medical Services base and Wilkes County Emergency Management.
Eddie Settle, chairman of the commissioners, said he’d like to no longer pay Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center $75,000 a year for leasing the current main Wilkes EMS base near Wilkes Medical Center. Settle said approval of the resolution served as the required one-year notice of the county’s intent to not renew the lease.
Commissioner Keith Elmore said $75,000 a year isn’t much nor out of the ordinary. He noted that $75,000 multiplied by 40 years is $3 million and the new EMS facility is estimated to cost $6 million, based on it being a 20,000-square-foot facility at $300 per square foot. Elmore said he didn’t oppose constructing a new EMS building.
Settle said it might only cost about $4 million, especially since one substation was recently built in Mountain View and other is to be built in eastern Wilkes.
Yates said actual size and design are yet to be determined, but these plans must be presented when N.C. Local Government Commission approval of financing is sought.
Commissioner David Gambill said Wilkes EMS is out of space in its current facility and it’s uncertain if the hospital will want the space and not renew the lease. “We’re kind of in a position where we have a plan if EMS had to relocate from that building to here,” referring to unused space in the Wilkes Agricultural Center. He said it’s not a great plan, but it’s a plan.
Wilkes Emergency Management is on the bottom floor of the 33,934-square-foot County Office Building, completed in 1976 on North Street in Wilkesboro.
The resolution said the second phase is constructing a new County Office Building on a site yet to be determined by the commissioners and purchased by the county. Settle said in an interview that something is being worked out for securing this site but he can’t talk about it yet.
The third phase is renovating the current County Office Building for use as the health department upon completion of the new County Office Building.
Settle said when interviewed that a written plan for the renovation exists, but needs to be updated. He said he was told that the county office building would work well as a clinic.
He also said pandemic-related activities brought greater attention to the condition and lack of space in the health department building. Settle said he didn’t know what would be done with it when vacated. The 17,902-square-foot health department building was constructed in 1958, with an addition completed in 1990. It’s on College Street in Wilkesboro.
Elmore said the county could construct a new building for a combined health department and Wilkes Department of Social Services for less than the cost of renovating the County Office Building.
He said he thought Wilkes DSS and the health department both need new facilities, “but maybe we need to talk to them more and maybe they don’t feel like the need is there.” He questioned if enough planning was done before undertaking the construction projects.
Settle asked Triplett if deciding to construct a new health department building instead of renovating the County Office Building for that purpose after approving the resolution would result in a new resolution being needed.
Triplett said it would require a new resolution. He also said they could change the resolution before approving it.
Commissioner David Gambill said he was ready to move forward as Yates outlined and at least explore options.
“We could still say no” before approving a contract, Gambill noted. “I would really like to consider maybe possibly moving forward with this project for an EMS site to start with and eventually looking at the county office” building.”
Gambill was making a motion to approve a design-build resolution only with building an emergency services center when Settle suggested leaving constructing a new County Office Building and renovating the current County Office Building for housing the health department in the document since it could be changed later.
Gambill then made a motion to approve the resolution as presented with all three projects. Commissioner Brian Minton seconded the motion but didn’t comment on the matter during the meeting.
Settle said when interviewed that he believes all three projects will be completed, starting with the emergency services center. He said receiving federal COVID-19 relief funds should help.
“Most likely all of it will happen,” he said.
Former Vice President Mike Pence and former Second Lady Karen Pence toured Samaritan’s Purse’s facilities on N.C. 268 East in North Wilkesboro on March 24.
Franklin Graham, president and CEO of the international Christian relief organization, walked the Pences through the 202,000-square-foot warehouse facility where Samaritan’s Purse pre-positions emergency relief supplies to quickly respond to crises.
“We are here to volunteer with Samaritan’s Purse because we believe in this ministry,” Pence told the organization’s staff and board members. “I hope you all know the difference that Samaritan’s Purse has made in the life of this nation and in [God’s] kingdom around the world.”
This was the former vice president’s first visit to North Carolina since leaving office.
According to Samaritan’s Purse, the Pences have been in the field with the ministry several times.
Graham said, “We are so honored that the vice president and his wife came to visit Samaritan’s Purse today. They love the Lord Jesus Christ, and they have served our country, so it’s a privilege to have them volunteer and be a part of what we’re doing in Jesus’ name.”
On March 24, they toured a Samaritan’s Purse Emergency Field Hospital with medical staff who provided life-saving care at coronavirus hotspots and war-ton places around the world.
The Pences were shown how Samaritan’s Purse refurbishes medical equipment to support mission hospitals and how the organization stands ready to rapidly provide relief supplies such as clean water, food, emergency shelter and hygiene kits.
A Samaritan’s Purse emergency field hospital with a mobile respiratory care unit and staff were in Lenoir from the first week of January to the first week of February handling overflow from six hospitals in the area. Nearly 80 COVID-19 patients were treated in the 30-bed hospital, with the final two released from care on Feb. 3.
Also while in North Wilkesboro on March 24, the Pences toured U.S. Disaster Relief units and equipment deployed in response to places hit by tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and other natural disasters.
“There aren’t any specific dates at the moment, but former Vice President Mike Pence was very clear that he is looking forward to volunteering with Samaritan’s Purse in the future,” said Mark Barber, media relations manager for Samaritan’s Purse and Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
The Pences arrived at and left from the Wilkes County Airport. They didn’t visit any locations besides Samaritan’s Purse facilities in North Wilkesboro, said Barber.
Samaritan’s Purse appreciates the North Wilkesboro Police Department and the Wilkes County Sheriff’s Office for being a part of the security detail that needed to be in place, he added
Samaritan’s Purse is currently in Alabama, helping families who lost everything in recent tornados, as well as assisting flood victims in Breathitt County, Kentucky.
Samaritan’s Purse is helping tens of thousands of suffering people in Tigray, Ethiopia—including children who are at risk of acute malnutrition. The organization’s DC-8 cargo plane has airlifted enough supplemental nutrition to feed 44,000 children for 30 days.
There is a diverse mixture of in-person and streaming Easter Sunday services this year in Wilkes County churches.
Wilkesboro United Methodist Church will have in-person worship outdoors, weather permitting, on Easter Sunday at 10 a.m. at the Carolina West Wireless Community Commons in downtown Wilkesboro. The service will also be livestreamed on Facebook and YouTube. The Rev. Karen Roberts will deliver the sermon and Dr. Jim Brooks will lead the singing.
Goshen Baptist Church, off N.C. 268 West, Wilkesboro, will hold a sunrise service at 7 a.m., Sunday school at 8:30 a.m. and preaching at 9 a.m., led by the Rev. Brian Miller. The services can be attended in-person, in the church parking lot or on Facebook Live.
Cornerstone Church of Wilkesboro will conduct an in-person Easter Sunday service at 10 a.m. with its children’s service at the same time. Pastor Mark Workman will give the sermon, which will also be streamed on Facebook Live.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Wilkesboro will be having its first indoor service since the pandemic began at 9:30 a.m. Sunday with reservations. Contact the church office to reserve space, which is limited to 60 people. If there is enough interest a second service may be scheduled for noon. Masks and social distancing will be required.
North Wilkesboro Presbyterian Church will host an outdoor, in-person service at 11 a.m. Sunday. Masks and social distancing will be required. The service will be live-streamed from the church’s Facebook page.
Mount Pleasant Baptist Church will offer in-person Easter Sunday services at 8:20, 9:40 and 11 a.m., and streaming services at 9:40 and 11 a.m. and 7 p.m.
Welcome Home Baptist Church in North Wilkesboro will have a sunrise service at 7 a.m. and a worship service at 9:30 a.m., led by the Rev. Lyn Lambert.
Wilkesboro Baptist Church will have three in-person options, at 8, 9:30 and 11 a.m. Those services will also be streaming on Facebook, YouTube, and Vimeo.
Millers Creek Baptist Church will have Easter Sunday services at 8:30 and 11 a.m. The 8:30 service is live-streamed on Facebook and YouTube.
Crossfire United Methodist Church, N.C. 115 South, will have an in-person service Sunday at 11 a.m. that will also be streamed on the church’s Facebook page.
Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in West End Elkin will conduct an outdoor service on the church grounds at 10 a.m., weather permitting.
Boiling Springs Baptist Church, 1390 Boiling Springs Road in Purlear, will have an Easter sunrise service on Sunday at 7 a.m.
Brier Creek Baptist Church, N.C. Old 60 in Roaring River, will have an Easter sunrise service at 6:30 a.m. with breakfast at 7:30, Sunday school at 8:30 and praise and worship at 9:30.
Journey of Grace Baptist Church, 2300 Suncrest Orchard Road, North Wilkesboro, will have an Easter sunrise service at 8 a.m. with special singing. Breakfast will follow at 8:30 and worship will be led by Pastor Tim Pruitt at 9:00.
North Wilkesboro Church of God of Prophecy will have Easter Sunday school at 10 a.m. and worship service at 11 a.m. with guest speaker Kathy Griffith.
Middle Cross Baptist Church, 2305 Rock Creek Road, North Wilkesboro, will conduct an Easter sunrise service at 6:50 a.m. with worship to follow at 9 a.m.
New Life Wilkesboro will have its Easter service at 11 a.m. followed by an egg hunt for children.
An N.C. Department of Transportation official discussed a reduction and other changes in state-funded roadside litter removal during the March 16 Wilkes County commissioners meeting.
“Due to budget constraints, we had to reduce and scale back significantly and mainly concentrate on safety-related efforts,” said Wayne Atkins, project development engineer with North Wilkesboro-based DOT Division 11.
He said cost reductions included less DOT-funded roadside trash pickup work by private contractors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Officials said in the meeting that this coincided with a decrease in volunteer roadside cleanup due to crowd size limits and people avoiding gatherings. Officials also said a rise in take-out and drive-through meal orders during the pandemic meant more trash tossed out vehicle windows.
The led to a surge in complaints from the public about litter along Wilkes roads — and to Atkins being invited to discuss the matter with commissioners.
“I don’t know that anyone has the answer or what the solution is…. I know you are covered up with calls. We are too,” said Atkins, participating in the meeting remotely by video.
Commissioner David Gambill said, “You can’t drive anywhere without seeing tons of trash.”
Atkins said the DOT began using private contractors about three years ago to pick up trash along primary highways statewide, including once a quarter along two-lane primary roads.
Atkins said that due to a DOT budget shortfall, two-lane primary roads were cut from the program so litter was only picked up along four-lane, divided highways like U.S. 421 in Wilkes. The cutback occurred over a year ago.
Atkins said the DOT just recently began including two-lane, primary roads in contracted litter collection again.
State prison inmates picked up litter along public roads statewide for decades but this ended when legislators omitted its funding in the 2017-19 state budget.
The DOT was paying the N.C. Department of Correction over $9 million a year to have inmates pick up trash along roads. This included paying inmates less than $1 a day, prison guard salaries and transportation costs. A 2012 study by the Office of State Budget and Management concluded that private contractors could do the work more efficiently.
“Over time, they (inmates) weren’t getting out as much and we (DOT) weren’t getting the bang for the buck…. We just weren’t getting our money’s worth,” said Atkins, adding that this was partly due to fewer prison guards being assigned for the work.
He said another issue was that prison officials asked that inmates be assigned to roads not among DOT priorities. DOT officials learned this was because people would leave items out for inmates if they “did the same road for two or three days in a row,” said Atkins.
“Much more litter is picked up using contractors,” including 5.6 tons of litter from along U.S. 421 in Wilkes from Jan. 1 through March 12.
Atkins said he expected to see much less litter along roads with the switch to contractors and was surprised at how rapidly it reappeared.
“I thought people would have more pride…. It’s unreal how it keeps being thrown out.” He said some people seem to think it’s DOT’s job to pick up litter and “we’ll give them something to do by throwing it out.”
He said larger fines or other stiffer penalties for littering may be needed. “It wouldn’t be had if someone was caught and sentenced to do community service work — picking up litter for a week or two.”
Atkins said roadside litter blows out of vehicles on the way to landfills. It’s not unusual to find concentrations of roadside litter certain distances from popular restaurants, just long enough to finish a meal, he added.
County Manager John Yates said the county pays a private contractor to remove litter from along N.C. 268 East. This includes near the county landfill in Roaring River.
Atkins spoke about the DOT’s Adopt a Highway program, in which businesses, nonprofits, families or individuals agree to commit to picking up trash along at least two miles of roadway at least four times a year for four years. “If it gets really bad, we ask that you pick it up more often.”
He said signs identifying highway adopters are installed and DOT will pick up bags of trash collected if called. Atkins said 70.5 miles of roadway in 34 sections have been adopted in Wilkes by five businesses or churches, two civic groups, one school, six individuals, 12 families and two “otherwise.”
Eddie Settle, chairman of the commissioners, asked if the “Keep Surry County Green” program was effective and noted the cleanliness of Surry’s Mountain Park community. Atkins said it’s more about community pride.
Surry County government pays nonprofits $7 per bag of litter they collect along roads.
Gambill asked if mowing along roads will pick back up.
Atkins said, “We were directed to mow only three times (per year). which is the least I’ve seen in my career. We will mow more this coming year than last. We hope to mow five times (per year) here and four in the mountain counties.” (Mountain counties have a shorter growing season.)
Commissioner Casey Joe Johnson spoke for involving schools and asked if sections of roads could be closed to make it safer for students to pick up litter for service hours.
Atkins said safety measures are taken with Adopt a Highway. He said more details on Adopt a Highway are available locally by calling 336-903-9229. Call 903-9154 to get bags of trash picked up after it’s collected.
He also said Spring Litter Sweep is April 10-24. Every DOT district in the state will dedicate three crews to picking up trash from secondary roads for at least one of those two weeks and volunteers are urged to participate.
Gambill said he favors creating a “cleanup Wilkes task force” to push Adopt a Highway.
Gwen Shafer of Wilkesboro, a volunteer with a group called Cleanup Wilkes that frequently picks up litter from along roads, agreed about forming a task force, but said “it shouldn’t just be lip service.”
Speaking after Settle invited her comments, Shafer said she appreciated Atkins but believes “he is walking around the problem and not getting to the heart of it.”
She said a qualified person needs to be hired to design and execute a litter reduction plan in Wilkes. “We need the Wilkes County commissioners to come up with a program and fund it.”
She cited the need for ongoing multi-layered marketing, combined with stiff enforcement and hefty fines. She said a program with presence in all school grades and an organized way to help youths get service hours by picking up litter is also needed.
“We need a hotline to call to report littering with enforcement follow through. We need more signage. Waste receptacles are needed at key places near restaurants,” she added.