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Remodeling work to the old Wal-Mart building in Haywood County could begin within weeks after commissioners approved a contract to transform the space into county offices.

The board heard from Scott Donald of Padgett & Freeman Architects, who are spearheading the revamp of the building. The now-empty storefront is due to be repurposed into headquarters for the department of social services and its 143 employees, as well as the health department, the planning department and building inspections, among others.

Architects were instructed to redesign the project after the county couldn’t get contractors to offer bids that were close enough to their budget. After cutting some features, they called for new estimates from contractors again late last year.

Donald reported that, after pulling down all the “low-hanging fruit” they could find, they’ve negotiated a price of $5.398 million for the remodel, which, he said, comes in around $9,000 under budget. The total project cost, including architect fees and purchase of the building is $12.5 million.

The board unanimously approved a motion to award the contract to Murray Construction of Monroe, which means that Donald and county staff can hold pre-construction meetings as soon as USDA officials, who are providing financing, come to have a look at the property later this month.

According to Donald, construction on the project could be underway as early as the first week of February. He also noted that the contractor was confident in their ability to finish the job in eight months, a month sooner than the plan called for. This would recoup some of the time that was lost when the project was rebid.

DSS is currently housed in the old county hospital, but the aging building was falling apart. Commissioners decided it would be cheaper to move into a new space than bring the old hospital up to par.

Clyde’s old Wal-Mart is now on track to get a new life after Haywood County commissioners voted Monday to sign a contract with Murray Construction of Monroe for the renovations. The project had stalled earlier this fall after the first round of bids came in millions of dollars over the $4.7 million budget.

After scaling back the project and putting it back out to bid, the county got back nine estimates that are almost all within $1 million of the budgeted cost. The final winning bid was just over $5.2 million and was only $14,000 below the next closest competitor.

Scott Donald of Padgett and Freeman Architects, who are leading the project, said that he thought the bids were all competitive and fair.

“We were able to bring down the project almost $2.1 million,” Donald told commissioners, who then voted unanimously to begin negotiating immediately.

The space will be home to the county’s Department of Social Services and health department, who will soon vacate their home at the county’s old hospital.

Haywood County commissioners are reining in their grand plans for Waynesville’s old Wal-Mart, working with designers and almost everyone else involved in the project to try and get it close to the projected budget.

At a work session last week, commissioners heard from Padgett and Freeman, the Asheville architects in charge of the project, who suggested cuts in everything from plumbing to decorative masonry.

“We basically went in with the county manager’s office and the staff and the users that are moving into the facility and started with them on how to redefine the scope of work,” said Scott Donald, principal architect with the firm.

Donald said that, after getting bids for the project that were astronomically higher than the budget, a decision was taken to adjust the project’s scope, slashing everything that could go without affecting the building’s functionality or getting rid of programs or jobs.

“It’s stripped as far as we can strip it without redesigning it again, and that would mean taking out programs or leaving the departments behind, leaving them where they are,” said Donald. “But I don’t think that’s an option either. We’ve cut as much as we know how without actually scaling back the floor plan.”

For their part, commissioners were happy to hear about any measures that would shave off the $2 million needed to bring the project within budget.

“This is one of those cooperative efforts,” said Assistant County Manager Marty Stamey. “You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to get it within budget, to make it to where it’s more efficient, more cost-effective. All the staff understand that and, as Mr. Kirkpatrick (chairman of the board of commissioners) said, as long as its functional, that’s what matters.”

Part of the problem, however, is the size of the building itself. Big boxes aren’t easy to partially renovate, and while Donald and his team have suggested leaving portions of the 115,000 square-foot space un-renovated, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to make large, wholesale cuts to the amount of revamped space without getting rid of jobs or programs that are slated to be housed at the facility.

“It’s a big project for very little money,” said Donald. “It’s a lot of square footage that we’re trying to renovate and the budget just isn’t there for that size of space.

The other large hurdle, however, is the financing. Most similar projects would be phased in, allowing gradual financing and more room — and time — for slight budgetary tweaks. But as a condition of the USDA loans the county secured to fund the renovations, phases are out. It must be done all at once, which also presents a challenge to architects and commissioners, who are forced to work with what they have at the outset.

Among the suggested cuts are technical savings, like plumbing and electrical work that could be done differently for a reduced cost. But aesthetic choices, like $25,000 of extra stonework on the building’s exterior, were pulled as well. Donald and his team have found savings in every possible corner of the project, he said: $25,000 for synthetic stucco instead of the real deal, $60,000 for axing a tongue-and-groove ceiling that would require a costly extra sprinkler system, $300,000 for using vinyl flooring instead of linoleum, and the list goes on.

In total, architects project that instead of the low bid being around $7.2 million, it should be closer to $5.1 million, only about $400,000 over the $4.7 million budget.  

They accepted information from everyone who had a hand in the job: county commissioners, the county manager’s office, engineers, subcontractors and even the original bidders. In the end, they came out with around 23 pages of recommendations, none of which the commissioners took issue with. In fact, they asked Donald if he and his team could look into pumping more savings out of the project.

Although Donald said he would look into it, he’s skeptical about what further cost reductions can be found.

“They were wanting us to look at even further items and we’ve done that,” Donald said. “We’re getting to the point now where it’s just that not much money is involved with small changes. It has to be something big to get the big money out of it, and that’s the hard part.”

As for the timing of the project, the need for a re-bid will only put completion between seven and eight weeks off schedule. That timeline was somewhat aided by the fact that it was operating around a month ahead of schedule and assumes that the bidding and contracting process won’t have to leap any more hurdles along the way.

When completed, the building will house the county’s Department of Social Services and Health Department, which have long been awaiting relocation from their current, aging homes elsewhere in the county.

Commissioners have not yet voted on the measures, but have a mandatory pre-bid conference with potential contractors scheduled for Nov. 17, with bids due Dec. 9. The projected completion date for the project is September 2011.

The renovation of Haywood County’s former Wal-Mart will be delayed as architects revise the project to match its budget.

Scott Donald of Padgett and Freeman Architects, who are planning the renovations for the now-county-owned building, told Haywood County commissioners at their Monday meeting that all 10 bids for construction on the project had come in over budget.

In a letter to Facilities and Maintenance Director Dale Burris, Donald estimated that at the lowest bidder’s price the total project would run $2.9 million over estimates, when including increased costs for furniture and plumbing problems. The county had budgeted $5.8 million.

Donald told commissioners that, after meetings with county staff, his recommendation was to take another look at the project. He recommended that since the projected overrun was so large, it would be best to adjust the project’s scope to fit within the budget.

“I feel like the prices were good,” said Donald. “I think we just have a little too much scope for the project, so we’re scaling it back.”

Commissioners agreed with the recommendation and voted unanimously to reject all bids and ask Padgett and Freeman to submit new drawings by early November. Commissioners plan to take new bids in early December.

The building was purchased by commissioners earlier this year with funding from a USDA rural development loan. It will eventually be home to the Haywood Department of Social Services, Health and Central Permitting Offices, whose long-time building was quickly becoming decrepit.

The board also voted to approve contracts with the three lowest bidders for Haywood Community College’s new Creative Arts Building, waterline upgrade and renovation of the General Education Building.

Possible uses for the former Bargains building were also discussed, including a dedicated senior center. The building is located next door to the county office building on Russ Avenue.

“We’ve recognized the need for a centralized senior services center,” said County Manager David Cotton. “We also evaluated the space needs specifically for the elections department, parks and recreation and the wellness center.”

However, the county has also applied for federal appropriations funding to create a senior center and have heard no word on the status of that application, so a decision on what the building will house was postponed until a later date.

Radical makeover

A major remodeling job to convert the abandoned Wal-Mart in Clyde to house the Haywood County Department of Social Services could get underway by November. This rendering by Asheville firm Padgett & Freeman Architects shows how the dreary big-box storefront will get a new façade more fitting with the mountains. Contractors are now bidding on the $12.5 million project. The 115,000-square-foot superstore will also serve as home for Haywood’s health department, planning and erosion control, building inspections and environmental health. Commissioners bought the Wal-Mart primarily to move DSS from its crumbling building, which would have required millions to fix up. In August, the county locked down a 40-year rural development loan, funded with federal stimulus money through the USDA, to pay for the project.

“I’ll tell you what this is, and I’ll tell you what it’s not,” said Franklin Mayor Joe Collins, opening a public hearing on a special use permit for a proposed Wal-mart Supercenter just outside the town limits.

Collins had anticipated that the capacity crowd gathered in the town hall on Monday night had come to express their opinions about whether they wanted a new Wal-Mart. But he was keen to limit the discussion to a very narrow topic: the size of the building’s footprint and a request for larger signs.

“This is not the time or the place to have a general discussion about whether you do or do not want to have a Wal-mart,” Collins said.

Developers Bright-Meyers, LLC, appeared on behalf of Wal-Mart to secure a necessary special use permit to proceed with the new store.

According to Collins, the public hearing was a carefully proscribed step in a process that began on May 21, when the application was first submitted.

The project’s special use permit application was vetted in a neighborhood compatibility meeting on June 8 in which nearby property owners voiced their opinions, and it was stamped for approval by the town’s planning board on June 15 after a thorough fact-finding process.

At the end of Monday night’s hearing, which was full of opinions from opponents and supporters of the project, the town board voted 6 to 0 to approve the special use permit and open the way for the store. But the vote didn’t do anything to dispel the idea that Wal-Marts are still controversial. The hearing was boisterous and at times contentious, as supporters and critics of the project shouted back and forth.

The proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter would be located at the corner of Wells Grove and Dowdle Mountain roads just off of the N.C. 441 bypass. The 33-acre site is outside the town limits, but within its zoning district and adjacent to the site of a recently constructed middle school.

The town’s unified development ordinance, created in 2007, requires any building over 30,000 square feet to go through a special use permit process.

The Wal-Mart Supercenter will measure 120,000 square feet and include two additional outbuildings of 32,000 square feet and nearly 800 parking places. Wal-Mart also wanted larger signs than are allowed under the town’s ordinance — one on the side of the building and one at the development’s entrance.

Town Planner Mike Grubermann, who has overseen the application process, said the developer’s proposal met the standards of the town’s universal development ordinance in all respects except the two conditions outlined in the special use permit application. He said the roads that provide access to the site are overseen by N.C. Department of Transportation and would require their approval, but traffic counts provided by the developers met his department’s standards.

Franklin developer Marty Kimsey summed up the case for those in support of the special use permit, saying that in a down economy, the new store offered jobs and a boost for the private sector.

“The bottom line is that this site will not be used as a Wal-Mart unless the special use permit is given,” Kimsey said.

Opponents of the project questioned whether Wal-Mart would bring new jobs or hurt existing businesses. They pointed out the potential environmental impact of its placement on the banks of the Little Tennessee River and raised concerns about its effect on traffic patterns in close proximity to the new school.

“I don’t think you could choose a worse area to build something that big,” said Mike Kegan, a resident of Dowdle Mountain Road.

Collins, presiding over the hearing, policed the comments closely at first, but as the hearing wore on, the speakers increasingly used the microphone to talk about their general views on having a new Wal-Mart in town.

John Cantrell, a former high school teacher who was against the permit, was exasperated when Collins cut him off. Cantrell complained about the proximity of the giant commercial complex to the nearby middle school, but Collins deemed them unrelated to the permit application.

“Well, who is it, who is supposed to hear these concerns?” Cantrell asked.

“I don’t know. It’s not us. Not here,” Collins said.

After the hearing was closed, Collins explained the guidelines for public hearings on special use permits are governed by state statutes and that, at the advice of Henning, he attempted to keep the discussion focused on the issue of exceeding square footage requirements.

“It may be that there are [towns] that take a looser approach than this, but I think that’s risky,” Henning said, adding that the developers could appeal the vote of the board if they felt the hearing was stilted.

Kim Hibbard, general counsel for the N.C. League of Municipalities, agreed that quasi-judicial hearings must be held to a different standard from other types of public hearings.

“If it was a quasi-judicial hearing, there are different rules. It would need to be relevant to the situation,” Hibbard said.

However, exactly how much of the comments should have been reined in is subjective.

In the end, in spite of Collins’ best efforts, the meeting did provide a forum for the public to express their opinions about the proposed Wal-mart. While more members of the public spoke in opposition to the project than in support of it, the decision rested with the board and it chose to grant the application without requiring any additional measures from the developers.

Franklin Alderman Bob Scott recused himself from the vote on a special use permit for a Wal-Mart Supercenter this week after conducting an online survey on the issue. Town Attorney John Henning said he believed the survey compromised Scott’s impartiality, citing state statutes that govern the procedures for quasi-judicial public hearings.

The pertinent passage in G.S. 160A-388 says that “impermissible conflicts include, but are not limited to, a member having a fixed opinion prior to hearing the matter that is not susceptible to change.”

Kim Hibbard, general counsel for the N.C. League of Municipalities, said determining whether Scott had compromised his impartiality was ultimately a judgment call.

“Are they really impartial? Have they fixed their opinion already? Have they been getting communications from one side or the other?” Hibbard said. “That’s where you would need to make your judgment, whether the actions fall into that category.”

Scott said his survey was an attempt to gain perspective on the public’s opinion.

View the results of Scott's survey

“All I was trying to do before all this came up was just find out how people felt. I wasn’t trying to make a determination of whether it was a pro or con, I was trying to feel what the feeling of the public was,” Scott said.

Scott also questioned whether the other aldermen were impartial, adding that it seemed they all had their minds made up which way they were going to vote prior to the meeting.

He did confirm that he would have voted against granting the special use permit had he been allowed to vote.

“I am concerned. If we have this ordinance then allow variances because it is Wal-Mart, is that fair? Why do we have the ordinance if we are going to grant exceptions?” Scott said.

Scott’s public survey had 329 respondents. Over 75 percent of them were in favor of the Wal-Mart. Over 80 percent had a favorable opinion of the company. Perhaps the most interesting response to the survey showed that 40 percent of the respondents thought the public should have a say in the store’s design scheme.

Franklin Alderman Bob Scott wants to know what people think about a proposed Super Wal-Mart on the edge of town.

Instead of stumping on the street corners, Scott has posted a survey on the web using an online polling tool.

“I like to get some kind of a sample of what people are thinking when there’s an important vote coming up,” Scott said.

The Franklin Town Board will hold a public hearing on a special use permit for the project at 7 p.m. on Aug. 2. The new Wal-Mart would be located at the corner of Wells Grove and Dowdle Mountain roads just off of the N.C. 441 bypass. It is just outside the town limits, but within the town’s zoning boundary.

Scott said the blind survey would help him cast an informed vote on the issue.

“The sole purpose of the survey is that I really want to get a handle on how people feel about this project, particularly in the business community,” said Scott.

The survey will close July 20. To participate, visit


Wal-Mart will not build a new Supercenter in Cherokee. After months of speculation that the deal between the tribe and the mega-retailer had fallen through, a company spokesperson confirmed the news this week.

“We decided not to move ahead with the project,” said Bill Wertz, Wal-Mart spokesperson. “It is a combination of things. We have to consider a number of factors.”

The tribe hoped Wal-Mart would be the center of a new mega development bringing an array of services to Cherokee, saving residents a drive into Sylva or Waynesville to purchase household wares that they can’t get on the reservation. But the planned Wal-Mart also drew criticism for its potential to hurt local businesses.

To lure Wal-Mart, the tribe intended to build a 150,000-square-foot store at a cost of $25 million on Hospital Road near downtown Cherokee and lease it to Wal-Mart. The store was projected to create 200 jobs and nearly double the tribe’s sales tax collections, theoretically paying for the tribe’s upfront cost of the building over time. Last May, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Tribal Council approved the deal, which was four years in the works, by a vote of 9 to 3.

Last month, Cherokee’s director of economic development, Mickey Duvall, said a consulting firm working on behalf of the tribe was still trying to persuade Wal-Mart’s upper management to move forward with the deal.

“Our consultants informed us in early 2010 that Wal-Mart’s domestic focus had changed primarily to urban markets due to the recent recession, however they would continue to pressure Wal-Mart’s upper management to get the Cherokee deal approved and construction scheduled as soon as possible since lease negotiations with the Tribe had been ongoing prior to the downturn in the U.S. economy,” Duvall said in an update published in the Cherokee One Feather newspaper.

The Tribal Council split on the issue of offering hefty incentives to Wal-Mart to bring the store to Cherokee, and some local retailers said the store would kill their businesses if it came. With the announcement that the project is scuttled, Wertz stopped short of saying Wal-Mart would rule the site out in the future.

“Every year we have a certain amount of investment capital, and we have to determine the sites best suited for its use,” Wertz said. “This site didn’t meet the threshold this year, but that’s not to say it couldn’t do so in the future.”

Wertz said Wal-Mart has focused more energy on remodeling existing stores since the recession hit.

“Two or three years ago, we made the decision to build fewer new stores and devote some of the money to remodeling existing stores,” Wertz said.

Principal Chief Michell Hicks, whose administration has been characterized by an aggressive agenda of economic development, did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

Last month, Hicks had been hopeful that the deal would still go through.

“The Eastern Band of Cherokee remains committed to opening a Wal-Mart in our community however we cannot discuss the content of those negotiations at this time,” Hicks said.

The deserted Wal-Mart near Clyde will be hardly recognizable once Haywood County is through with its makeover of the megastore.

Sunlight will stream in through 30 skylights scattered across the low-slung ceiling of the former big-box store. A new metal roof will cover the front 25 feet of the building, with a mountain vernacular style entrance supplanting the once mundane building facade.

The made-over building will be a far cry from the cramped and crumbling offices that currently house the Department of Social Services and Health Department, which will relocate to the new site.

A $6.1 million renovation will transform the once gaping interior space into “little communities,” according to project architect Scott Donald with Asheville-based Padgett and Freeman Architects, PA.

The renovated space will include a shared entrance lobby, health clinic, Meals on Wheels kitchen, dental clinic, W.I.C. area, along with offices for more than 200 social workers.

Also included in the preliminary design is space for a central permitting office, including planning, erosion, building inspections and environmental health.

County commissioners voted to purchase the vacant big-box for $6.6 million in January. Architects estimate the renovations will cost another $6.1 million to retrofit the nearly 100,000 square feet of space.

Plans are still in the early stages. Commissioners will sign off on a design by fall and send the project out to bid. Construction could be completed by summer 2011.

Commissioners say the old Wal-Mart is a bargain to solve a problem that could no longer be ignored. DSS was fed up with leaky roofs, frozen pipes and cramped office space, as well as the lack of space and confidentiality at their offices, which date as far back as the 1920s. Facility inspections landed Haywood’s DSS building in the bottom 1 percent of 70 DSS facilities throughout the state.

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