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Haywood again looks at old Wal-Mart for DSS building

Haywood County commissioners are once again considering the abandoned Wal-Mart shell for a new Department of Social Services building.

The current DSS building is housed in a cramped and crumbling 80-year-old building that was once the county’s old hospital. Patching the building has become an expensive proposition, with the latest issue a leaking roof that would cost $260,000 to repair. The county’s facility director, Dale Burris, said there is no easy patch that could solve the problem.

“We can’t find where the leaks are to be honest. You patch one area and it comes in a different area,” Burris said.

Commissioners have long known that the DSS building either needed a major and costly top-to-bottom overhaul or relocation to a new building. When Wal-Mart left a gaping hole in the strip mall where it was located to take up new digs on the other side of town last year, commissioners began eyeing the vacant spot. They decided not to pursue it at the time given the county’s economic situation with the recession. At that time commissioners were seeking a federal loan of up to $11 million to purchase and renovate the retail building.

Commissioners decided they should revisit it, however.

“It’s going to be a constant stream of tax dollars going into a building that is 80 years old,” Swanger said. “I think we would be remiss to marry ourselves to this building. If we put a quarter million dollars into it, we will do the same thing the year after and the year after, and at the end of the day we will still have a bad building.”

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At the time commissioners were considering the old Wal-Mart site, County Manager David Cotton had said buying land and building a new DSS building from scratch could cost up to $25 million. Commissioner Kevin Ensley said the old Wal-Mart site would save millions over constructing a new DSS building, a cost that his children will bear.

“They will say ‘Why didn’t you seize the opportunity when you could have,’” Ensley said.

The former DSS director, Tony Beaman, stepped down earlier this year. The department now has a new DSS director, Ira Dove.

The old Wal-Mart could also house the health department, which is in need of new quarters.

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