By Catharin Shepard •
Staff writer •
The Hoke County Board of Commissioners on Friday approved a motion to have the SFL+A architect firm build the county’s proposed Parks and Recreation center, including Hoke’s first public swimming pool.
Commissioners had already agreed to pay about $1 million to SFL+A to have the company create a design and draw up building plans for the Hoke County recreation and aquatics center. Now, the company will also be responsible for handling the new rec center’s construction.
“We said it makes sense to let them keep it,” Vice Chairman Harry Southerland said. The project is considered “design-build” since the same company is handling both parts of the process.
SFL+A is the third company selected to work on the project. The county board originally hired Bobbitt Design-Build of Raleigh, and then Neal Smith Engineering of Southern Pines to work on the recreation center project. SFL+A has done other work for the county in the past, including designing and building Sandy Grove Middle School.
The county has not officially announced a timeline for when the project could be open to the public, but a commissioner mentioned potentially having the new recreation and aquatics center open in 2022.
The commissioners previously gave verbal approval of SFL+A’s preliminary design for the recreation center. The two-story building design includes a regulation-sized indoor swimming pool with eight lanes and nearby bleachers, suitable for holding swimming competitions, and a recreation/family swimming pool for children and swim lessons.
The building also includes a gym with multiple basketball courts, allowing Parks and Recreation to hold multiple basketball games at one time. The facility would have an indoor walking track, several multi-purpose rooms for classes and events, locker rooms and office space, plus a concessions stand.
The county purchased about 30 acres of land on U.S. 401 near Scull Road for around $549,000 last year in order to build the new rec center. Work is ongoing to extend county sewer service to the area, thanks to a $1.4 million grant from the Golden LEAF Foundation.
New courthouse moves forward
Commissioners also further discussed plans for a new Hoke County Courthouse during the resumed meeting. The board approved sending out a request for qualifications (RFQ) to find a construction manager for that project.
“We’re going to keep that process going. We met with a company out of West Virginia, but we want to have an RFQ so everyone can come in and do a presentation for us,” Southerland said.
The county local government has set money aside to help fund the construction projects. The county has about $10 million earmarked for the projects, Southerland said. The board members estimate the recreation and aquatics center and new courthouse will cost around $35 million total.
“We’re thinking hypothetically around $15 million for the Parks and Rec center. Now, we’re not sure….and we’re thinking about $15-20 million on the courthouse,” Southerland said.
Commissioners won’t know the actual cost until further in the process. SFL+A has not yet put a price tag on the recreation center construction, and the board has not yet selected a designer or construction manager for the courthouse project.
Alternative funding sources could help pay for both projects. A $500,000 grant could help pay for the Parks and Recreation center. The county could also choose to enter into a public-private partnership with a developer to take advantage of about $3-4 million in tax credits for the proposed courthouse.
The county schools used a similar public-private partnership to build Sandy Grove Middle School using several million dollars in tax credits. However, at the time, that also meant the developer owned the building for the first seven years until ownership transferred to the county.
That wouldn’t be the case for the proposed new courthouse, Southerland said.
“When Sandy Grove was created, the private company had to own it. But the law changed now where the public, which is the county, the county could own it. We could do a public-private partnership, but the county would own it from the very beginning,” he said.
The board members discussed other facets of the project, including where to build the new courthouse. The commissioners are united in wanting to keep the new courthouse in Raeford, Southerland said. However, it could mean having to buy additional land and work out how to arrange to have enough parking.
“One of our major issues – we all agree, all five of us, we want to put the courthouse downtown. But you can’t put a courthouse downtown with no parking. You have to have parking. So, we’re trying to work on parking,” Southerland said.
The county owns the vacant lot across from the existing courthouse, which is currently used as a parking lot. That property is large enough for a new courthouse, but not for sufficient parking, the vice chairman said.
At the meeting, County Manager Letitia Edens presented the board with a list of available land in other locations in Raeford’s city limits. Some of the locations included Palmer Street near the Hoke County Health Department and new Robert A. Wright Hoke County Agriculture Building, and a few acres on Magnolia Street behind a church.
Nothing has been decided for certain at this point, officials said.
The commissioners additionally agreed to allow County Attorney Grady Hunt to consider additional legal support to help the county through the public-private partnership process.
The county will have to seek approval from the Local Government Commission on both the recreation center and new courthouse.