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Architect unveils plans for Camden gov't complex

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Shown is drawing of the plans for Camden County's proposed $5 million government complex. The county's administrative functions would be located in offices on the left section of the complex, its library would be on the right side of the complex and Cooperative Extension Service would be in the center.

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By William F. West
Staff Writer

Saturday, October 28, 2017

CAMDEN — Camden County’s new $5 million government complex will be built in a classical style similar to the county’s historic courthouse but also include a modern drive-up service window for citizen convenience.

Those are among the features Camden commissioners agreed to include in the structure’s design during a meeting last week with the county’s architect for the project.

Donna Phaneuf, president of VIA Design Architects, spent nearly an hour with commissioners on Thursday, presenting options for the new government complex to built on a site across N.C. Highway 343 from the courthouse.

Commissioners expressed their preference that the new government complex resemble Camden’s historic courthouse. The other option Phaneuf presented called for a building resembling many of the agricultural structures throughout the county.

Three of the board’s members said they also prefer a design for the government complex that features a drive-up service window.

Phaneuf agreed with commissioners that the county’s current courthouse, which was built in 1846, is a beautiful structure. Because the government complex will be built on the northern side of an open field, motorists driving west on U.S. Highway 158 will continue to have an unobstructed view of the courthouse, she said.

“We want to honor this building and maintain a very nice, respectful design that helps embrace what you have here,” Phaneuf said.

At the same time, Phaneuf said it’s important for a government complex to give a good first impression, particularly to representatives of business and commercial prospects considering whether to invest in Camden.

The government complex will be the new home for a number of county agencies. County administration will be housed in the complex’s western section, the Camden Center of Cooperative Extension will be in the complex’s center section, and the Camden Public Library will occupy the eastern section.

The county’s permitting and tax collection offices will also move into the new facility from their current offices, as will the register of deeds office from the courthouse. The register of deeds’ move is expected to free up more space in the courthouse for the Camden Clerk of Court’s Office.

Visitor parking will be in front of the new government complex, with each section to have a front entrance. Employee parking will be behind the complex.

Phaneuf said the administration section of the building will feature a public lobby at the entrance. Visitors will then make a right and walk down a corridor with offices on both sides.

On the back of the administrative section will be a drive-up window and stacking lane for vehicles. Board Chairman Clayton Riggs and Commissioners Garry Meiggs and Tom White said they wanted the drive-up window included. Riggs said the drive-up window would be of particular benefit to elderly citizens.

Phaneuf’s drawing showed the complex’s community center space, in the building’s middle, outlined like half of a basketball court, to show the vast floor space that will be available. Phaneuf said the space can be divided in half with temporary walls so that a couple of functions can be held at the same time. There will also be a kitchen to support special events and for staff to use during lunch and work breaks.

White wanted to know if the government complex, as proposed, will allow the county to make needed additions over the next 15-20 years.

Phaneuf told White there is a little bit of flexibility for growth built in to the design.

White expressed concern that more available land could be a problem because of the size of the building site.

Interim County Manager Stephanie Humphries said an open area to the east of the library section of the complex could be extended. As a result, the Cooperative Extension office could be shifted, giving the administrative section more space in the complex’s middle section, she said.

Commissioners said the new government complex will allow the county to sell the current county administration building, located off U.S. Highway 158 in Belcross. Moving the Camden Public Library into the new complex will also allow the county to end rent payments for a commercial building in Camden Business Park.

Humphries said after Thursday’s meeting that the county has been dealing with water damage at the library’s current site for the past couple of years.

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