Compromise needed on City Hall

By: Mark Schenck - Contributing columnist

According to a recent report in the New York Sun, constructing a square foot of office space in New York City costs almost three times as much as it would cost in Chicago, Atlanta, and other American cities, with a square foot of NYC office space at around $400.

Guess what Mr. and Mrs. Laurinburg Taxpayer? Construction cost of the Laurinburg’s proposed City Hall is $500 dollars per square foot.

It would seem that opposition to the City Council’s new City Hall project is justified if for no other reason than it’s superficial New York price tag. Evidently the overwhelming majority of Laurinburg’s citizens are opposed to spending $11 million for a new 22,000-square-foot facility. That $11 million may be a manageable price for cities having populations meeting or exceeding 80,000 such Greenville, Asheville, or Concord. However, according to data provided by the latest U.S. Census, Laurinburg’s population hovers around 16,000, with only 6,625 housing units in the city, and 20 percent of those are living below the poverty level. The average Laurinburg resident has a per capital income of $16,165 and a total household income averaging $29,064. Still Council is adamant about needing a $11 million City Hall?

It’s hard to comprehend the purchasing power of $11 million, however if we equate that to the real world, the average new home in our area is a little over 2,000 square feet., with an average price per square foot of $85, (per local professional builders), this equals more than 64 new three-bedroom homes that could be built for $11 million. On the other hand, one of the most commonly constructed office building is a standard size of two to four stories tall, with a construction cost just over $140 per square foot in Winston-Salem.

Yet Laurinburg’s new City Hall will cost an estimated $500 per square foot Think of it, one new Laurinburg City Hall equals the cost of 64 new 2,000-square-feet three-bedroom homes.

Paying back the $11 million loan will take 30 years with payments of around $45,000 per month based on a three percent interest rate. While our children are paying for this highly questionable “necessity” during this 30-year loan period do you suppose nothing else will happen that requires major funding? If it did where will those funds come from, more loans, higher taxes, or will we be forced to sell Scotland County to the “Mega Dump” operators as some city officials advocated not so many years ago?

How did the need for a new city building become so critical so fast? Laurinburg’s municipal building has been around for a good many years. Weren’t there any provisions made for upgrades, refurbishments or additions listed in “Laurinburg’s Long-term Strategic Plan?

Even Laurinburg’s major religious institutions handle their financial planning more efficiently than city government. When a church facility needs additional space, you won’t find them tearing down the original building so everything’s under one roof. They simply add on.

And as far as the current city building’s size, one might wonder if the building is too small or our city government is too large? In all fairness, Laurinburg’s government has not grown lately, but is slightly smaller than it was several years ago and it is trending downward. Then why is more space required?

Why not compromise? Relocate Laurinburg’s utilities office to a satellite venue, either a refurbished building, (of which there are many), or a new one conservatively constructed hopefully with better access. This action would neutralize the perceived “safety” issue of mixing utility and police business.

The second compromise would be the construction of a two-story 6,000 square foot annex for an estimated $1.2 million, that would be built close to or attached to the current City Hall. This addition could satisfy those that perceive the current City Hall’s size as inadequate. The annex could house the City Council chambers, offices and provide the ambiance that some feel helps sell the area’s image. With construction cost around $1.2 million dollars, this facility could be and should be built by local contractors thus keeping our tax money working to help local craftsmen in our area not in Charlotte.

The best time to fix anything is before it breaks. A professional preventive maintenance schedule must be created for all operating systems with mandatory compliance and audits. Finally a combined up-grade of the current City Hall’s interior, including new office equipment, where needed, and a complete revamping of the surrounding grounds. By utilizing in part, the new requirements for welfare assistance program, where welfare recipients are required to help out in the community in return for the community helping them out.

The addition of garden areas for local artist, art students and others to display their work. Area school children could take part in painting interior wall murals such as at Wagram Elementary. Hopefully such student involvement in government will plant the seed of civic pride and community respect in some of our children.

Mark Schenck

Contributing columnist

Mark Schenck is chairman of the Scotland County Republican Party.

Mark Schenck is chairman of the Scotland County Republican Party.