One million more

Published 10:31 am Monday, October 15, 2018

WINDSOR – Even as North Carolina recovers from the full-on onslaught of Hurricane Florence as well as the remnants of Hurricane Michael, Bertie County continues to recover from Hurricane Matthew’s devastation of two years ago.

Buyouts and elevations proceed as representatives from Holland Consulting, the county’s development group, assist local residents who are on the priority list for the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.  Meanwhile, the status of the grant program impacting local residents is being handled by the Town of Windsor.

On Oct. 4, the Bertie County Board of Commissioners received updated information on what is now a $3.8 million grant award from the Golden LEAF Foundation Board of Directors for the replacement of facilities damaged by flooding during Hurricane Matthew, specifically the Bertie County Public Library, Cooperative Extension offices and the Windsor Community Building.

That grant recently grew by a shade over $1 million more after the Foundation approved an additional request from the Bertie Commissioners.

“This is a win-win for both Bertie County and Windsor resulting from the team work of our County Commissioners and the Town Council of Windsor,” Bertie Commissioners chairman Ernestine Bazemore said. “Both boards have successfully secured grant funds from the Golden LEAF Foundation to support recovery and mitigation efforts since Hurricane Matthew.”

At their Sept. 10 meeting, the Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the option to purchase four acres of land at the corner of Lancaster Avenue and South King Street in Windsor for construction of the new library and Cooperative Extension offices.

Earlier this past summer, a Phase I Environmental Assessment study was completed as part of the county’s due diligence during the planning and design phase for the construction project.

“Our first step was to secure $500,000 in June of 2017 from Golden LEAF to support the planning, design and engineering for the library and cooperative extension facilities,” explained Commissioners’ vice-chair Ron Wesson.

“Discussion about adding a community meeting space evolved within the project during the preliminary design and programming meetings,” said Commissioner Tammy Lee at a recent Board meeting.

Site selection for the dual facility has been the primary focus of the Commissioners for more than six months.

“We examined several possible sites for the joint use facility serving public library patrons and providing Extension offices,” noted Commissioner John Trent.

Ultimately, the Lancaster Avenue location was deemed most suitable based on its availability, its proximity to the county’s recreation complex, and other human services located on South King Street.

“Bertie County’s Cooperative Extension program is also one of the primary users of the Windsor Community Building which has been operational since 2017 following Hurricane Matthew’s flooding in the downtown area,” said Bertie County Manager Scott Sauer. “During the planning and design process, the concept of adding a community meeting space capable of seating 200-300 persons was suggested for incorporation within the new building.”

In just the past 15 months, the Town of Windsor’s scheduling for the community building was dominated mainly by events sponsored by the Cooperative Extension office. More than 80 percent of the bookings, including agricultural programming, training, pesticide certification, and production meetings, all take place at the facility.  Master Gardener training and various 4-H events for youth are also frequent users of the current Windsor Community Building.

“We were encouraged to define our needs during the planning process, and if the addition of community meeting space is warranted, Golden LEAF staff advised the county to add the cost to the grant application” explained Lee.

Golden LEAF Foundation staff conducted a site visit on Sept. 24 and visited both the former Extension offices, and the Windsor Community Building. Both were located on Queen Street, which received heavy damaged from flood waters.

“Site visits are crucial to secure funding as the Golden LEAF staff evaluates grant proposals,” noted Bazemore. “We had both town and county representatives available to answer questions during the tour of these facilities.”

“It’s wonderful to have staff from the town and the county working together for all of our citizens,” noted Commissioner Stewart White in offering his congratulations to town and county leaders.

The final piece of the application documentation requested by Golden LEAF includes photos of the flood damage to the facilities that were impacted.  Sauer provided photos from Hurricane Matthew, which was added to the county’s application.

The County’s Golden LEAF Foundation grant application for the public library and Extension offices was approved in December of 2017. It includes a “grant reserve” of $2,750,000 in addition to the initial planning and design grant of $500,000.

Bertie County and the Town of Windsor successfully demonstrated their commitment to the project with securing the Lancaster Avenue property.  The county’s request of an additional $1,051,830 grant for community meeting space as a component to the overall project has also been approved, making the total grant award an amount of $3,801,830.

The Bertie Commissioners will meet later this month with the design team to review the timetable for completion of the project.