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Avery Commissioners to Consider Selling Old CARES Building and Land and Break Ground on New Social Services Complex

The groundbreaking ceremony for the new Avery County Department of Social Services (DSS) complex on Beech Street in Newland was held May 1st with various county and DSS officials attending.  Pictured from left-to-right:  Commissioner Dennis Aldridge; Commissioner (Vice-Chairman) Tim Phillips; Commissioner Robert Burleson; DSS Administrative Assistant Shannon Singleton; Commissioner (Chairwoman) Martha Hicks; DSS Director Raquel Jennings; DSS Board of Directors Member Deborah Gragg; Commissioner and DSS Board of Directors Member Wood Hall (Woodie) Young, Jr.;  County Manager Phillip Barrier, Jr.; and County Finance Officer Caleb Hogan.
(Picture by Tim Gardner)

Avery County Commissioners received several inquiries from prospective buyers of the Avery CARES Building and the land where it sits during their regular monthly meeting, May 1st in their Board Room in the County Administration Building in Newland.

All commissioners were present for the meeting–Chairwoman Martha Hicks, Vice-Chairman Tim Phillips, Dennis Aldridge, Wood Hall (Woodie) Young, Jr. and Robert Burleson.

Before the meeting the commissioners, County Manager Phillip Barrier, Jr. and Department of Social Services officials broke ground on the new DSS office complex.

Garanco, Incorporated (Inc.), General Contractor of Pilot Mountain, NC, was awarded the contract in the bid amount of $2,219,800 to perform the added construction and needed renovations to the building on Beech Street in Newland that will house Avery’s Department of Social Services (DSS).

Garanco, Inc.’s bid was the lowest of two the county received for the DSS construction and renovations project. 

The complex is schedule to open at the latest in March 2024.  However, Hicks said it’s more likely to open in late fall of this year.

During the public comment segment of the meeting and for the second straight month, several representatives of particular businesses expressed opposition to demolishing the CARES Building in Newland, stating the need to restore and retain it because of its historical significance, not having a new probation complex built on the same site, while also offering to buy it.

The granite and frame building located on Cranberry Street is more than 80 years old.  It was built between 1939 and 1940 by the National Youth Administration (NYA), which was part of the New Deal Agencies

established by United States President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  In its early years, the NYA was a division of the Works Progress Administration, which focused on providing to young Americans between the ages of 16 and 25.  Because its participants were of young ages, the NYA was a means to learn and gain experience in building trades while earning an income. And unlike other New Deal programs, the NYA employed young women as well as young men. The NYA performed many public works projects.

The CARES Building has served many purposes including:  First Library for Avery County; a Community Center; Garden Club for Women, Sock Hops, a teen club with live bands and singers, proms, WAMY, veterans’ groups meetings, AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings, NA (Narcotics Anonymous) meetings, dance lessons (gatherings), boy scouts (meetings) and the housing of a thrift store for Yellow Mountain Mental Health.

Hicks has declared that the commissioners do not want to fund the more than $100,000.00that would be necessary to repair the building due to its various interior physical defects as well as the presence of asbestos and black mold in it. She added that tearing down or demolishing the building would “cost much less for the taxpayers of the county.”

The building was surveyed by Tamara Riggs, State of North Carolina Accredited Asbestos Inspector, and was found to have some levels of both of those harmful substances. As a result, the State of North Carolina informed the county that the building needed to be repaired or demolished.

Aneda Johnson, Chairwoman of the Avery County Historical Society, addressed the commissioners requesting that the county sell the old Avery CARES Community Building to the historical society.

Johnson said that she has contacted State Representative Dudley Greene and State Senator Ralph Hise about obtaining grant money to help the historical society with such a purchase.

Jack Thomson, Western Director for the Preservation North Carolina (PNC) organization told the commissioners that the organization would like to purchase the CARES Building and the property where it sits.

According to Thomson, if PNC purchases the building and land from the county, it would not keep the land long-term and would be seeking a new buyer.  He added that the organization’s primary purpose would be to preserve the building.

Thomson provided a copy of laws regarding such a sale.  According to the North Carolina General Statue Laws (160 A-266) a city (or entity) may dispose of real property of any value and personal property valued at thirty thousand dollars ($30,000.00) for any one item or group of similar items by private negotiation and sale where (i) said real or personal property is significant for its architectural, archaeological, artistic, cultural or historic associations (ii) said real or personal property is to be sold to a nonprofit corporation whose purposes include the preservation or conservation of real or personal properties of architectural, archaeological, artistic, cultural or historic significance; (ii) said real or personal property is to be sold to a non-profit organization whose purposes include the preservation or conservation of real or personal properties of architectural, archaeological, artistic, cultural or historic significance; and (iii) where a preservation agreement or conservation agreement as defined in G.S (General Statue) 121-35 is placed in the deed conveying said property from the city (entity) to the non-profit corporation or trust.  Said non-profit corporation or trust shall only dispose of or use said real personal property subject to covenants or other legally binding restrictions which will promote the preservation or conservation of the property, and where appropriate, secure rights of public access. 

Thomson said if the county decides to sell the CARES Building and property to PNC, the county would place a set of restrictions on the deed property prior to the sale, then PNC would set substantial restrictions prior to a sale to a private party.

Thomson had previously submitted an email to County Manager Phillip Barrier, Jr. that he received from Elizabeth King, Architectural Survey Coordinator for the State Historic Preservation Office of the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, encouraging the commissioners to consider submitting an application to submit the building for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, which would keep it from being torn down.

Nathan Gittner, who along with his wife, Suzzannah, own the Inn at Shady Lawn in Newland (formerly Shady Lawn Motel), also addressed the commissioners about buying the building.

Gittner said he wants to purchase it so he can have the necessary repairs done and then construct rooms to rent in it as the Inn at Shady Lawn is often filled to capacity throughout the year with a waiting list of people wanting to rent rooms. Gittner said that having additional rooms to rent would help alleviate the waiting list.

Hicks said that the county will consider selling the CARES building and property that it sits on.  She noted that a new complex to house the probation services would be built on another site rather than the previously proposed one where the building sits if a sale is finalized, because a sale would include both the building and land where it is located.

But Hicks declared that such a sale would be “as-is because the county will not assume any responsibility or liability for the building or the land it sits on in any manner afterwards.”

She said that the Board of Commissioners will discuss the potential sale of the building and land in greater detail during one of its budget workshops or its bi-monthly meeting this month and should reach a decision to either sale them or tear the building down then.

The County of Avery is already seeking qualified contractors to bid on the new modular probation office project, who have until 3:00 p.m. this Friday, May 5 to submit bids.  Construction on the probation office project is expected to begin in the summer of 2023.  It will be approximately 1,575 square foot modular office consisting of five offices, a lobby reception office, breakroom and two restrooms.  

Also, during the public comment segment, Anne Wilson Castro, daughter of Oscar (Red) Wilson, a nationally-noted fiddle player as well as a World War II veteran and Avery native from the Powdermill Community, thanked the commissioners, other county officials and Avery Historical Museum representatives for recognizing her father in various ways, including having his name on the county’s Veterans Monument and with displays in the museum that she donated.

In other business, the commissioners:

*By unanimous (5-0) vote appointed Marc Sharpe and Mike Edmisten to the Community Child Protection Team; Local Child Fatality Protection Team

*Unanimously appointed Ken Walter, Clayton Harpold and Dave Smith to the Economic Development Committee

*Unanimously approved the monthly tax report from Tax Administrator Andrea Turbyfill that the county collected $168,176.29 in taxes for the April 2023.  Turbyfill also advised the commissioners that the county’s collection rate is 98 percent for 2022 and that $420,055.67 in taxes for that year are past due to the county. 

*Received notification from Barrier, Jr. that Dogwood Health Trust, Inc. has awarded the county a $25,000.00 grant to be used for Avery County Child Welfare Adjudication Support and that the Drug Abuse Resolution Team (D.A.R.T.) has donated $8,000,00 to the Freedom Life Avery organization.

Barrier, Jr. also told the commissioners that Avery County has added Broadband Internet Service to as additional 222 county residences and 12 businesses through funds received from the GREAT Grant.

Avery County is the beneficiary of a grant that Spectrum was awarded that will bring gigabit high-speed internet access to more than 230 homes and small businesses in Avery County. It’s funded by the North Carolina Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) Program and is approximately $2.25 million in value. Combined with funding from the County of $250,000, that was used from the Federal American Rescue Plan (Coronavirus Pandemic Recovery) money it received, the total project investment is nearly $2.65 million.

Charter Communications, Inc., is an American telecommunications and mass media company with services branded as Spectrum. Its Fiber-Optic buildout will connect Gigabit Broadband in the county with starting speeds of 300 Megabits per second (Mbps).

The GREAT grant is one of nine already awarded to Spectrum to expand fiber-optic broadband infrastructure to areas of the state that currently lack access to high-speed connection. Spectrum is North Carolina’s largest broadband provider, serving 2.8 million customers and employing nearly 11,000 residents in the state.

The commissioners will meet with the Avery Board of Education for a budget workshop this Thursday, May 4th beginning at 5:00 p.m.  The commissioners will also hold another budget workshop on May 11th, starting at 1:00 p.m. and a bi-monthly regular meeting on Monday, May 15th, beginning at 3:30 p.m.

They will also hold regular and bi-monthly meetings, respectively, on Monday, June 5th and Monday, June 19th, with both starting at 3:30 p.m.

All of these meetings will also be held in their Board Room on the second floor of the County Administration Building, located at 175 Linville Street in Newland.