After years of talk, a new Emergency Management Services facility for Sampson County is much closer to reality, with a $3.5 million state grant formally accepted for the construction of revamped headquarters and intentions announced by county leaders to move forward in earnest.
“A new Emergency Operations Center for Sampson County has been something that many of us have been talking about for nearly the last 10 years and probably longer than that,” said County manager Ed Causey during a Sampson Board of Commissioners meeting earlier this week.
He said he was “extremely pleased and excited” to deliver news that would propel that effort forward.
“Tonight, we’ve got the first leg of this in place,” he said, “which is a $3.5 million grant from the State of North Carolina.”
The North Carolina General Assembly recently passed the 2019 Hurricane Florence Disaster Recovery Act, which requires the executive branch to implement and administer disaster assistance programs for counties and municipalities impacted by Hurricane Florence and Matthew, including Sampson.
The legislation directs the North Carolina Office of State Budget and Management to issue a directed grant to Sampson County in the amount of $3.5 million, to be used for the construction of a new Emergency Management Center.
The board unanimously approved the grant agreement with the state, accepting the disaster recovery grant monies.
In talking with state officials, Causey said, with an expeditious return of the agreement with a description of work to be done, he believed “they would like to advance us $100,000 toward the planning of this facility by the end of this month.”
The $3.5 million would be roughly half the estimated cost of a $7 million Emergency Management endeavor, which was discussed in broad terms at a Sampson Board of Commissioners planning session earlier this year. A preliminary design for a larger Emergency Management headquarters to replace the aging and outgrown facility on Underwood Street was unveiled by The Wooten Company at that session.
The unveiling of conceptual designs, floor plans and the $7 million price tag itself came with several caveats: nothing was set in stone and there was no timeline to fund. Causey said any opportunity to obtain sufficient grants or non‐loan monies for a new facility would be dependent on having a realistic cost estimate and preliminary schematics in hand. He pointed to The Wooten Company study as laying that groundwork.
The proposed 25,000-square-foot facility would be situated in the bend on Commerce Street off of U.S. 701 Business in Clinton, between Sampson-Bladen Oil Company and the Sampson County Law Enforcement Center. The county owns 22 acres on both sides of Commerce Street that has not yet been developed.
The new building would replace the EMS building on Underwood Street, which is roughly half the size. The current building was constructed in 1956 and served as a North Carolina National Guard Armory until it was released to the county in 1995.
While the idea for a new facility has been tossed around for years, Bass said the EMS building has simply become too small and is susceptible to flooding during even moderate rains. Bass has on multiple occasions shared concerns about the lack of space for staff, equipment and storage, as well as ventilation issues, remarking that the EMS building on Underwood Street is “in dire need of replacement.”
Under the new EMS building proposal, a vehicle bay would be close to where emergency personnel are located, including bunks and offices. There is a lobby with a large training room located right off of it. The 911 Center and the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) each have their own wings, where the EOC in the current facility consists of a 32-by-19 foot space where emergency officials and others gather during natural disasters to hear updates and coordinate response.
This week, Causey did call county commissioners’ attention to a stipulation in the grant agreement that required the $3.5 million to be expended by June 30, 2021. He called that “a pretty tight timeframe.”
“We do have some other funding that we will be working very diligently in trying to put together,” said the county manager, who acknowledged Assistant County Manager Susan Holder, County Attorney Joel Starling, Fnance Officer David Clack and Emergency Management Director Ronald Bass and staff.
“We’re now in the mode where we are going to be putting pretty significant effort on this.,” Causey noted.
Editor Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 2587.