County approves RFQ for courthouse and new admin building, hires lobbying firm

By Catharin Shepard • Staff writer • Hoke leaders voted Monday to solicit proposals from design-build companies that can engineer and construct not only a new courthouse, but also a county administrative building.

Commissioners additionally voted to hire a lobbying firm to represent Hoke County in Raleigh, with the goal of securing state dollars to help pay for the county’s upcoming construction projects.

Between the work on the James A. Leach Aquatics and Recreation Center, now under construction; the proposed new courthouse and county administration building; a new SandHoke School of Engineering for local high school students; and other possible projects – Hoke could be looking at anywhere from $75 million to $100 million in public building construction costs over the next few years, Commission Chairman Harry Southerland said.

Southerland led the discussion of the investment into the county’s future. A courthouse facility, which Southerland called a “justice center,” and a newly announced county administrative building are first up on the priority list.

“We want to build, and we are planning to build, a Hoke County justice center hopefully in the near future. But at the same time we are going to build a Hoke County administration building as well,” Southerland said.

“Because of certain restrictions at the courthouse, we want to look at building the same building on the same lot, but detached. So the goal is to have the RFQ come out with that intent. We want to build two buildings under one RFQ.” 

The courthouse would be about 40,000 square feet, and the administrative building would be about 15,000 square feet.

The commissioners voted unanimously at the regularly scheduled board meeting Monday to send out a request for qualifications (RFQ) for the two buildings. Companies interested in working with the county on the project can then send information about their capabilities to Hoke officials.

“It’s a long time coming, so I’m happy to say that,” Southerland said at the vote.

Although plans have not been finalized, early discussions among commissioners suggested the board plans to put the new courthouse in downtown Raeford on vacant land next to the historic, century-old Hoke County Courthouse.

SandHoke School of Engineering

The county board approved as part of the consent agenda, a funding resolution for the proposed SandHoke School of Engineering. The science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) focused high school would be located at Sandhills Community College’s Hoke campus on East Central Avenue, near the existing SandHoke Early College building.

The construction would cost a total $28 million and offer classrooms, labs and technology training for Hoke’s teens interested in attending. The school would begin by bringing in a class of freshmen, and ramp up enrollment by bringing in new freshmen classes each year. The school would have a goal of ultimately enrolling up to 500 students, possibly taking some pressure off of the crowded Hoke High campus.

The resolution passed this week stated that the school system has applied for funding from the Needs Based Public School Capital Fund to build the School of Engineering. If the school system receives $15 million in funding, the county will agree to pay the $5 million match as required by the state General Statutes.

The school system received $10 million for the project last fall from the Needs Based Public School Capital Fund, with a request that the county would pay the remaining $18 million for the project.

Lobbying firm

The Hoke commission additionally voted Monday to hire the Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP lobbying firm, based in Winston-Salem, to represent the county’s interests to lawmakers in Raleigh.

With the state preparing to work on its two-year budget, now is a good time for Hoke to seek to secure state dollars to help pay for upcoming construction work, the board members discussed.

Commission Vice Chairman Allen Thomas explained, “This is a contract where we would look at hiring a firm to advocate for us in Raleigh as the state prepares to make their two-year budget. We just talked about the courthouse, that’s a state function…to see if the state would be willing to assist us in funding that project.”

A letter from Charles McDowell of Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP discussed what the firm could offer.

“Navigating the governmental labyrinth at the state level presents a spectrum of opportunity for both public and private entities. However, these opportunities often come with hurdles that organizations must clear to reap the benefits. The goal of Kilpatrick Townsend’s Government Relations team is to assist our clients with their relationship with government at all levels,” the letter said. “Kilpatrick Townsend’s Government Relations professionals combine traditional ‘lawyer skills’ such as analysis, oral advocacy and concise writing, with political experience and day-today familiarity with legislative and executive branch processes and principals.

“At Kilpatrick Townsend, our Government Relations Team brings years of experience representing local municipalities, transportation entities, nonprofit organizations, statewide associations, government vendors, and Fortune 500 companies before the North Carolina General Assembly and Executive Branch. We have won countless victories, defeated many adverse bills and proposals, restored reputations, and frequently secured ‘a seat at the table’ for our clients.”

The firm has worked with the city of Fayetteville, and many other cities across the state including Pembroke and Charlotte on similar initiatives, Southerland said.

The board did not discuss the cost involved in the contract. The contract would be month to month, perhaps for a three-month time span.

“If the money doesn’t come in, we stop sending it out,” Commissioner James Leach said.

Overall the county is looking at some big price tags for its upcoming investments, as part of responding to and driving growth in Hoke, Southerland said.

“We’re looking at some other buildings we’re going to have to build as well…we’re looking at in terms of capital projects, $75 million to $100 million in projects that we’ve got going on,” he said.

The state currently has a surplus that the county should go after “aggressively” to continue to build Hoke.

“We need more schools,” he added.

In other business, the commissioners set May 24-26 for budget workshops.

The board held a closed session before adjourning.

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