Camden gets input on proposed county admin building
By Chris Day
Friday, April 21, 2017
CAMDEN — Camden County has taken “step one” in its goal to construct a new county administration building.
While construction of the building hasn’t been approved, the county owns about 7 acres of land across N.C. Highway 343 from the Historic Courthouse where it would like to build the new facility. And during a special meeting Wednesday night, commissioners got feedback on how the county should use the proposed structure. The meeting was held in the Camden Library and attended by about 20 residents and county employees.
Before opening the floor to public comments, Board of Commissioners Chairman Clayton Riggs assured the crowd that neither plans for the building nor its use have been approved.
“This is step one of what the community wants and what the best step is in how we get there from here,” Riggs said.
Representatives from VIA Design Architects PC in Norfolk and MB Kahn, the county’s construction manager, gave presentations and fielded questions from commissioners.
Early ideas for the administration building actually envision it more as a complex, where several county services, such as the tax and register of deeds offices, would be centralized. Donna Phaneuf, with VIA, presented architects’ renderings of one option of how her firm sees the complex being designed.
The early plan includes office space on two floors, a community center, a building for a new library and more. The sample plan also emphasizes an interaction between indoor and outdoor space, such as a plaza that would serve as a hub for the surrounding offices. The plan also includes additional green space that could be used as an outdoor learning environment for children. A retention pond and space for the complex to grow into in the future are also included.
During the public comment section of the meeting, one resident asked how the building would be financed.
Riggs explained that financing for the building would not affect funding for a proposed new high school. The Camden Board of Education is seeking to have a bond referendum added to the 2018 ballot, which if approved, would be used to finance construction of a new school.
County Manager Michael Brillhart said the county would finance the administration building.
“The time period that we’re looking at is anywhere from 15 to 25 years, depending on the interest rate,” he said.
Commissioner Tom White also explained that residents might not be aware that the county doesn’t own the building that houses the current library, located off U.S. Highway 158 north of Camden, but instead leases it. The county would no longer have to pay rent if it owned its own library building, White suggested.
Commissioner Garry Meiggs picked up on White’s comment, explaining that the county does own the building next door to the library that houses the county manager and his staff.
“That would be a building that would be, I’m sure, marketed to go toward this new project,” Meiggs said.
A resident also recommended that the proposed administration facility include space for groups and agencies to meet and hold events. Riggs said that use is included in the early plans.
“We don’t know for sure right this minute, but one of the buildings we looked at has the large community center, but when you wanted to have meetings for 25 or 50 people those sliding walls could be brought together,” Riggs said. “We could have multiple things going on in one evening by putting in divider walls.”
Representing the Cooperative Extension Service was Cameron Lowe, Extension director for Camden and Currituck counties. Currently, the Camden Extension office shares space with Soil and Water Conservation in a building across N.C. 343 from the courthouse and near the property of the proposed administration building. Lowe said more work space is needed for both the Extension and Soil and Water staffs.
“We’ve more than doubled our staff size in the last four to five years,” Lowe told commissioners. “We currently have two staff members that are on staff with Camden County but have no place to sit, have no phone, have no office space.”
Lowe described Extension staff as “conveners people” and need space to meet and work with the public.
“We convene groups and we meet with people, and we’re begging and borrowing space all over the community to be able to convene these groups,” she said, adding that at times staff has used space in their kitchens at home to perform plant and soil sample tests.
Following the meeting Riggs answered questions about how the Camden County Sheriff’s Office factors into the new administration building. Riggs said that after county departments move out of their current spaces in the older buildings behind the courthouse and into the new administration building, the sheriff’s office would be able to spread into some of that vacant space.
Before adjourning the meeting, commissioners agreed to consider approving contracts for VIA Architects and MB Kahn at their regularly scheduled May 15 meeting.