County project add-ons spark debate

By Jeff Linville -

DOBSON — The Surry County Board of Commissioners voted to approve some new expenses to ongoing projects, but not without a little controversy.

As they have done on several occasions this year, two men appeared before the county board to discuss issues that have come up during renovations of the historic courthouse and the conversion of the former Dobson Plaza into a county government service center.

Don Mitchell, county facilities director, and contracted architect Tony Chilton introduced change orders that set off some discussion among board members.

Change orders 31 and 32 would add data drops and jacks in the Government Service Center area that will house the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The two costs listed were $10,098 and $953.70.

These are expenses that would have to be done regardless of who moved in, said Mitchell. The only reason these weren’t included in the original bid process is that he hadn’t had a chance to do a walk-through with someone from the USDA to hear all its business needs.

Change order 33 would extend the walls around the IT room higher.

The IT space is inside the USDA’s own area, so the walls only extend up to the drop-tile ceiling, explained Mitchell.

Chilton, an architect with Brite Engineering Consultants in Pilot Mountain, said that contractors don’t typically run walls up to the underside of the roof around IT areas because of all the connectivity that is needed. There are many wires leading into servers and computers, and if the walls went all the way up, someone would have to drill a hole through a wall every time a new connection was needed.

He felt this was an unnecessary move that perhaps was left over from some older standard that was still on the books for USDA protocols.

Mitchell said there already has been extra expense because of relocating a water heater out of the USDA’s space because the agency wants to be able to close off its area and lock out people. If there was a water problem, he said he couldn’t have gotten a worker inside to fix it so the heater was moved.

Commissioner Gary Tilley looked at change order 33 and asked simply, “What if we don’t do it?”

“When I asked why they needed these walls going all the way up,” said Mitchell, “they said, ‘We need to protect the room from our own employees.’”

Commissioner Van Tucker said that before any construction started, the county had people meet with the future occupants like the USDA. In that meeting, the USDA said that it had monies to help with outfitting the space to its specific needs. But, he added, the county now has $12,000 in data expenses and another $4,039 request to extend walls without any funding yet from the USDA.

Tucker said because the work is going on now and it would be better to get things done while the workers are in place, he would go ahead and make a motion to fund the $12,000 for data needs, but then he believed the board and/or county staff should reach out to elected officials like Congresswoman Virginia Foxx to pursue some federal money for this.

“Someone has to pay for this, and I don’t think it should be us,” said Tucker.

He made the motion for change orders 31 and 32, but left off the part about the walls. Commissioners Tilley, Eddie Harris and Larry Johnson agreed. Commissioner Larry Phillips voted no to the county footing the bill for any of the expenses.

• For the historic courthouse, Mitchell and Chilton presented just one change order — also related to data wire connection.

Mitchell said the winning bid put in by Hayco Construction didn’t include connecting fiber optic cables at data boxes. He said the bidder seemed to think the county had the expertise to do that work itself.

This expense was listed at $7,933.

The board voted 4-1 in favor of the expense, with Phillips again the lone no vote.

By Jeff Linville

Reach Jeff at 415-4692.

Reach Jeff at 415-4692.