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Avery County Officially Opens New Department of 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 1, 2023 with various county and DSS officials attending.  Pictured from left-to-right:  Commissioner Dennis Aldridge; Commissioner Tim Phillips; Commissioner Robert Burleson; DSS Administrative Assistant Shannon Singleton; Commissioner 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. Photo by Tim Gardner

By Tim Gardner

The new headquarters of the Avery County Department of Social Services (DSS) was officially opened with a ceremonial ribbon-cutting on Friday, March 22.

Four of the five Avery County Commissioners were present. Chairman and DSS Board of Directors member Tim Phillips welcomed the approximately 30 in attendance. Commission Vice-Chairman Dennis Aldridge offered the prayer and dedication of the new facility. 

Commissioner Martha Hicks led those assembled in the United States of America Pledge of Allegiance and noted that Avery Countians should be extremely proud of the new DSS complex.  She noted that she wished  long-time Avery DSS benefactor, the late Martha Guy, former President of Avery County Bank, would have lived to witness the opening of the new facility as she would have taken tremendous pride in it.

Words of Appreciation were also offered by Commissioner and former and long-time DSS Board of Directors member Wood Hall (Woodie) Young, Jr., Avery DSS Director Raquel Jennings, and Lead Regional DSS Director Ben Rose.

Robin Morgan, Avery County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director, conducted the official ribbon cutting of the new complex, located at 358 Beech Street in Newland.

North Carolina House of Representatives Member (85th District) Dudley Greene, North Carolina State Senate member (47th District) Ralph Hise also attended the ceremony.

Before the opening of the new complex, most of Avery’s DSS offices were housed on the first floor of the County Administration Building and a few more were housed in the Avery County Health Department complex—both also located in Newland.  The DSS staff actually moved into the new facility and began using it for its operations nearly three months ago.

The new state-of-the-art headquarters of the Avery County Department of Social Services, located at 358 Beech Street in Newland. Photo by Avery Couty DSS

The new DSS project included the complete renovation of an approximately 5,400 square foot single-story wood framed building, new construction of another approximately 5,400 square feet of single-story wood framed space added to the existing structure, and various phases of site development. 

The new complex features 54 staff offices, compared to 44 in the former headquarters from which the DSS operated.  Besides a waiting room reception area and restrooms, the new headquarters has an emergency shelter—a dayroom in which children or families may stay. And the new DSS headquarters also includes the following: large kitchen, full bathroom with shower, clothes washer and dryer, breakroom, and large and small conference rooms.

Additionally, there is plenty of client, visitor, and staff parking spaces available at the new DSS complex.

Young, Jr. commented about the facility: “This new complex will meet the space and other related needs of the county’s most professional and extremely outstanding DSS staff.  Myself and our other commissioners believe these new headquarters will give Avery County a model DSS complex—one as good as any county has—and one that will help further enhance and expand the top-quality services our DSS offers our citizens.  It’s truly state-of-the-art and a complex in which we commissioners, our other county officials, and our DSS staff are most proud and take great pride.”

Hicks said that there are a few empty offices in the facility that can be used for additional staff hired in the future or for other current DSS office needs.

The County of Avery originally purchased the property and the building that was renovated to make part of the DSS complex from the Appalachian Regional Hospital System and Charles A. Cannon, Jr. Memorial Hospital while Carmen Lacey was then administrator of the latter. Avery County Manager Phillip Barrier, Jr. said that County officials wish to express their gratitude to Lacey and Charles A. Cannon, Jr. Memorial Hospital as well as its governing hospital system—Appalachian Regional—for selling the building and property and all other assistance they provided the County during that process. 

$2,500,000.00 was allocated by the Avery Board of Commissioners to complete the project.

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.

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

Bidding began on the project on December 13, 2022.  Bids were received until 3:00 p.m. on January 19, 2023 in the Commissioners’ Board Room in the County Administration Building. 

Those submitting bids were required to review and follow the Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprise requirements as established by the County of Avery that were contained within the bidding documents.

A mandatory pre-bid conference was held in the Commissioner’s Board Room on January 5, 2023.  Representatives of the architect and the owner were present. The part of building that now houses the Department of Social Services, which was already constructed was open for inspection immediately after the pre-bid conference. That was the sole opportunity for bidders to tour that part of the complex building.

All bids were publicly opened and read aloud at a commissioners meeting.

Before their May 1, 2023 regular monthly meeting, all the county commissioners (Phillips, Aldridge, Hicks, Young, Jr., and Robert Burleson) along with Barrier, Jr., Assistant County Manager Cindy Turbyfill, County Finance Director Caleb Hogan, Jennings, and other Avery DSS officials broke ground on the new complex.