Laurinburg proceeds with City Hall project despite critics

By: By Mary Katherine Murphy -

LAURINBURG — Despite criticism, the Laurinburg City Council on Tuesday authorized City Manager Charles Nichols to begin negotiating a possible contract for construction of a new municipal building.

Charlotte construction firm Edifice, Inc. was recommended as the best qualified company to do the work.

In his motion to authorize contract proceedings, council member J.D. Willis stipulated that the company also provide the costs for a possible renovation of the existing police station.

“We would like to have some figures on what it would cost to renovate this facility,” Willis said. “It’s just a matter of doing our due diligence to see exactly where we are or where we want to go.”

The most recent cost estimates for the cost of upgrading the city’s administrative offices date from a 2013 study by Oakley Collier Architects. That firm proposed $1 million to renovate the current police station for municipal use exclusively and $4.7 million to construct a 10,000-square-foot police station separately.

“I want to put this myth, you know, out of its dissemination of the idea that renovating this building costs more than demolishing and building a new one,” said Mayor Matthew Block, who maintained that the best option is to renovate City Hall without constructing a new police station.

“Let’s just stop once and for all saying that renovation of this building costs anywhere near building a new building.”

“So $4.7 million to build the police station, plus the million dollars to renovate this is what … if we have a new building and it costs $5.7 million for everything, what’s the difference?” council member Dee Hammond said.

Council presented the pursuit of negotiations with a construction firm as an opportunity to present an up-to-date comparison of the costs of renovation and new construction and clarify the actual costs involved.

“I think our citizens and this council need to know what really is this thing supposed to cost,” said council member Drew Williamson. “Why speculate, why not get a hard number? Why not also, if we could even by that meeting, determine what financing opportunities we do have.”

Council tabled setting a date for a public input session dealing specifically with the project until those numbers are available.

“There’s no sense in having a public input session or public hearing when we don’t even know the facts and figures,” Willis said. “Let’s at least get the facts and the figures and let the experts tell not only us but the entire community what is really what.”

Prior to council’s vote, Laurinburg attorney Michael Schmidt, speaking on behalf of Michael Edds and other Laurinburg pastors, spent about 20 minutes outlining his case against a new City Hall.

“Many citizens and pastors in Laurinburg made made known to me their concerns about the city of Laurinburg wanting to destroy this glorious municipal building and the beautiful Barrett building next door to build a very costly new City Hall,” said Schmidt.

He offered the city’s stagnant population and levels of income well below the state average as reasons that the city should not consider spending millions on new buildings. Using figures based on 2014 discussions, Schmidt presumed that the total cost would be around $10.5 million.

“Such a burden on a population of approximately 15,774 citizens with median income of approximately $15,818 is at the very least unconscionable,” he said. “Is this the time to add 40 years of financial debt to our burden, and when we do need to have borrowing capacity, will we have used up our credit?”

Schmidt also pointed out that the city council has received most of its information pertaining to the design and cost of a new building in special meetings, which though open to the public are rarely well-attended.

“It appears, with all due respect, that this contract is really evidence of, if nothing else, a tacit approval; that there’s a commitment to do this without any citizen input,” he said.

City resident Woody Pierce also admonished council for the apparent dismissal of police chaplain Michael Edds, who left the department in February after serving for five years. Pierce cited Edds’ efforts to reach out to victims of crime and their families and to raise funds for police equipment.

“He has a lot of compassion for the city of Laurinburg and Scotland County,” Pierce said. “He has quite a rapport with young people and they really seem to be attracted to him, and I know his heart is out for young people, and you have heard in the past remarks that he has made concerning getting something done in the city for our young people.”

Edds has been an outspoken opponent of the city’s examination of a new City Hall.

“He was just a citizen acting in the best interests of our city, and I believe that he was knocked down just because of his beliefs,” said Pierce. “Whenever our right to be able to speak to the government is infringed upon, then our governing situation is a bad situation.”

In other business, council approved a request by the African American Cultural Society of Scotland County to plan a two-day Tema Fest in September celebrating the relationship between Laurinburg and Tema in the West African nation of Ghana, which are in the process of forging a sister cities link. The festival will involve road closures on West Cronly, Fairley, and Atkinson streets downtown.

Council also approved a conditional use permit for Michael’s Amusements to hold a carnival at 1681 South Main Street outside the former Save-A-Lot building from March 31-April 10.

Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.

By Mary Katherine Murphy