Friday, April 12, 2024

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Graham, NC 27253
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County asked to pay construction cost increases as new mental health center takes shape

The past 13 months have seen a mind-bending transformation at 971 Kirkpatrick Road, where workers have been erecting a new public facility that will ultimately serve as the go-to location for area residents with mental health crises and addiction-related emergencies.

But for all the visible progress that contractors have made on this so-called “diversion center,” there is apparently still much to do before the new edifice is ready to welcome its of patients.

Precisely how far this project remains from completion became amply evident on Monday when Alamance County’s commissioners received a progress report on this venture from the multi-county consortium that oversees the publicly-funded mental health services in this part of the state.

That morning, Donald Reuss of Vaya Health informed the county’s elected leaders that, while the new diversion center may look fairly complete from the outside, work has barely begun on the innards of this multi-million-dollar facility.

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“If you toured the building today, you will see a lot of plumbing and a lot of electrical going in,” Reuss elaborated in his presentation to the commissioners, “and as we get into the new year of 2024, we will get into that last sprint run to finish the facility.”

More cash in the final dash?
Reuss added that, when all is said and done, the county will have a state-of-the art building at its disposal – with 24-hour access to crisis treatment, an in-house pharmacy, a separate wing for children to receive short-term care, and an in-patient ward with 16 beds for adults with longer-term needs. He nevertheless warned that this crowning achievement will cost a bit more than he initially anticipated when the commissioners entrusted Vaya with this project’s development in September of 2022.

Reuss conceded that this ongoing endeavor has recently been bedeviled by steep cost increases for things like steel beams and ceiling components. He added that these price hikes are expected to add another $1.2 million to the project’s overall cost – and will eventually be factored into the county’s lease payments for the facility.

Under their initial arrangement with Vaya, the commissioners had promised to shell out some $1.4 million a year over a 10-year period to lease this new building – with an option to buy the facility outright for $12 million after the first 25 months.

Reuss told the commissioners that, based on the latest projections, the county’s annual payments on the 10-year lease would go up by an additional $127,800 a year. This prospect nevertheless drew a hue and cry from commissioner Bill Lashley, who insisted that the county could’ve explored other alternatives had it known just how volatile this particular vision for the diversion center would be.

“We had so many options when we started doing this,” the commissioner added. “We could have bought the land and did everything ourselves…But it seems like the county is being put into a situation where it can’t say ‘no.’”

Lashley went on to suggest that ChadCo Construction, the project’s general contractor, ought to swallow the building’s additional cost rather than pass it along to the county. This idea fell flat, however, with Alamance County’s attorney Rik Stevens, who pointed out that ChadCo’s contract is actually with Vaya and not with the county itself.


Other facilities
Aside from this update on the diversion center, the board of commissioners also received a report on a global facilities assessment that they had previously authorized to evaluate the roofs and HVAC systems in all the county’s own buildings as well as those owned by the Alamance-Burlington school system.

During Monday’s proceedings, assistant county manager Brian Baker asked the commissioners to dig $747,829.84 out of the county’s general savings to fund this assessment. He added that this sum will cover the services of two contractors that he and his colleagues had chosen to handle each prong of the evaluation.

Baker noted that the county’s two contractors should complete their evaluations of all the county’s and school system’s facilities by the time that the current fiscal year wraps up in June. He nevertheless said that, in order to give the commissioners some hard data as they prepare for the county’s next budget, he and his colleagues have identified 20 high priority roofs and 20 high HVAC systems for two firms to review ahead of the rest.

Baker added that the contractors will have until the end of January to complete their evaluations of these top-priority items – all but one of which are on the school system’s facilities.

The commissioners proceeded to approve Baker’s request by a margin of 5-to-0.

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