Tarheel ChalleNGe Academy officials have $700,000 in state money and design plans to improve the Salemburg location with the addition of a multipurpose facility. They just need help bringing the project to fruition.
Col. (Ret.) Edward Timmons, state director for Tarheel ChalleNGe, has been in talks with Sampson County officials and those in the Town of Salemburg in recent weeks and brought the academy’s plight to the Sampson Board of Commissioners meeting Monday night. The board ultimately tabled the matter, with further discussion to take place.
The academy has been without a multipurpose facility for years, said Timmons, who requested the construction of a 90 foot by 100 foot steel building and the county’s assistance in overseeing the work.
“There is no facility for alternate training. Having an alternate facility to conduct training is paramount,” said Timmons, who cited the relocation of the academy from Keener to Salemburg in 1994. “Keener had a gymnasium and Salemburg does not. We have been providing an unjust service for the cadets. Most schools in America have a multipurpose facility or some recreational facility for students to use.”
Among other benefits, the area could be utilized for the cadet activities during inclement weather conditions.
In 2016, the General Assembly appropriated to the National Guard, earmarked for Tarheel ChalleNGe, the sum of $700,000. Since that time, the academy has been unsuccessful in obtaining additional funding for an overall two-phase project that Timmons said would cost $1.4 million.
Currently, the National Guard has a number of projects “on the books” that would have priority for construction by their personnel, so they are seeking an alternate method for construction. At the Tarheel ChalleNGe site in Stanly County, a similar project — 60‐bed barracks facility — was expedited by having the county serve as the recipient of funding on behalf of Tarheel ChalleNGe. The local government managed the construction project.
Timmons requested a similar situation for Salemburg’s construction. The costs of construction would funnel through the county’s budget, and the project would be managed by county staff in conjunction with the National Guard, he noted.
Being able to realize the project would mean that Tarheel ChalleNGe would continue to have a “premiere facility” for at-risk youth, Timmons attested.
The quasi-military academy is sponsored by the North Carolina National Guard and is designed to help at-risk youth ages 16 to 18, who either quit high school or were expelled from it. There are close to 150 students at the Salemburg campus.
While touting the academy itself, County attorney Joel Starling, along with county staff and commissioners, shared reservations about the liability the county assume in managing the project.
“My concern would be that in the event that the project goes over budget, or takes longer than expected, irrespective of any (hold harmless) agreement between Tarheel ChalleNGe and the county, the builders would still be looking at the county to pay that bill,” Starling said.
Kirby echoed concerns of cost overruns.
“This could be exposing Sampson County to God-only-knows-how-much in overruns,” the commissioner remarked.
Commissioners agreed the academy was serving a vital purpose, with each of them giving glowing praise of the work done at the facility to improve the lives of at-risk youth and their families. Kirby called it a “worthwhile project for a worthwhile organization.”
“Having this addition is going to greatly improve that program,” he said. “But if we get in here with $700,000 and it costs us a million, then we’re out $300,000. We need to get better control over what our position, our liability, is … to limit our exposure.”
He floated the idea of a local legislative act that would specifically state that Sampson County would only be responsible for $700,000, to include all engineering costs and contingencies. He believed that local legislators could help in that regard.
“We shouldn’t be exposed to that,” Kirby said. “This Tarheel ChalleNGe serves kids all across North Carolina, not just people in Sampson County. This program has produced model kids across the state.”
Commissioner Harry Parker recalled when the academy was located on U.S. 701 in the Keener community.
“You’ve come a long way,” Parker said. “I see the benefits of that program and what it has done over the years.”
County officials said they have been advocates for the Tarheel ChalleNGe program since its inception in Sampson in the early 1990s, “and we appreciate the economic impact it has on our county and its communities, the socio‐economic impact to North Carolina in the reduction in dropout and incarceration rates, and the life‐changing opportunities you provide for the at‐risk youth,” Assistant county manager Susan Holder stated in a memo to Timmons.
During Monday’s session, County manager Ed Causey and others expounded on that point, with the county manager saying there was “no finer organization in Sampson County.” He did share “tremendous concerns” with the work that would be involved on the county’s end, including finding time with the projects already being shouldered by county employees.
“If all goes well and you get lucky, it’s wonderful,” said Causey. However when it does not, he noted, it brings “significant challenges and causes great concern.” He said while 90 percent of projects can progress seamlessly, the 10 percent that break down are time-consuming and hard to fix.
The vote to table the matter was unanimous, 4-0. Board chairman Clark Wooten was absent from Monday’s proceedings.
“We all acknowledge what Tarheel ChalleNGe means to the community,” Commissioner Jerol Kivett added. “We’re trying hard not to say no, but at this point we can’t say yes.”
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