Columbus County commissioners Tuesday night approved a contract with a Morehead City architect for design and interior demolition plans for the historic courthouse and added Clerk of Court Jess Hill and Sheriff Jody Greene to a committee that has been involved in the project since last year.
Commissioners also heard pleas from two representatives of the Reuben Brown House Preservation Society (RBHPS) that additional architectural firms that have experience in renovation of historic buildings be considered for the project but took no action on those requests.
Both Donna Scott and Janice Young of the RBHPS ran out of time during their allotted three minutes each during public comments before they could make their strongest arguments for another architect to be considered. “We do need an architect who is familiar with historic restorations,” Scott said. “It is a specialty in the field of architecture.” She also suggested that more members be added to the Historic Courthouse Committee.
Young urged commissioners, if other architects can’t be considered as the primary architect for the project, to either seek additional free help from the State Historic Preservation Office or to hire an additional preservationist to consult with the architect that is hired.
Commissioners unanimously voted to hire Coastal Architecture, headed by Lee Dixon of Morehead City, for the project. The contract calls for Coastal to be paid $16,000 for demolition planning — primarily removal of some ceilings and interior walls — and $267,000 for general architectural fees that will include building design and administering construction contracts that will eventually be awarded for a project that is expected to cost around $4 million.
County Maintenance Director Larry Hayes had said earlier that the “demolition” portion of the architect’s proposal doesn’t represent a major project. “Some walls and doors have to be moved,” Hayes said, “and some walls have to be completely taken out. That building has three ceilings in it and they’re going to take those out and go back to the original configuration. They’re not going to gut the building.”
Review of architects
County Manager Mike Stephens said that requests for proposals from architects were solicited last year and that eight proposals were received. The Historic Courthouse Committee reviewed those proposals and selected the top five for interviews, ranking each. The committee at the time consisted of Stephens, his Executive Assistant Gail Edwards, County Attorney Amanda Prince, Purchasing Agent Stuart Carroll, Finance Director Bobbie Faircloth, and Commissioners James Prevatte and Trent Burroughs. Burroughs since rotated off the committee and was replaced by Commissioner Charles McDowell. After negotiations for the top-ranking firm failed, the committee began negotiations with Coastal, which has done previous architectural work for Columbus County in the past, specifically the building housing the Columbus County Tax Office and Register of Deeds.
It was based on those negotiations that the committee recommended approval of Coastal Architecture. Stephens said, “He (Dixon) talks plain language. He doesn’t flower it up. I’m confident this man can do the job.”
Hearing that, commissioners unanimously adopted a motion entered by Charles McDowell and seconded by Burroughs to approve the contract with Coastal Architecture. Commissioners also unanimously agreed to an earlier motion entered by Ricky Bullard and seconded by Jerome McMillian to add Hill and Greene to the committee overseeing renovation of the historic courthouse.