Guilford County just took a big step forward on two major and long-awaited projects – building a new county animal shelter and conducting a massive renovation of the old county jail in downtown Greensboro to create an office for the Guilford County Sheriff’s Department.

On Thursday, Sept. 21, the Guilford County Board of Commissioners named the architects and revealed details for both projects, which the commissioners have been discussing for years.

Guilford County has selected PNP Design Group to design the new animal shelter. That Greensboro-based firm, which has worked with the county on many projects before, will begin with a needs assessment phase at a cost of $25,000. The total cost of the new shelter, likely to open in 2019, is expected to be about $9 million.

For the renovation of the old jail, which will serve as the Sheriff’s Department’s main headquarters, the commissioners approved staff’s selection of Walter Robbs Callahan & Pierce Architects – a Winston-Salem firm started by North Carolina State University graduates in 1965. That firm’s past projects include facilities on North Carolina State’s campus and the expansion of the Z. Smith Reynolds Library at Wake Forest University. The board approved $550,000 for the architectural phase of the old jail project.

The Board of Commissioners unanimously approved both selections.

Guilford County Animal Shelter staff, shelter volunteers and area animal lovers are eager to see the new shelter completed since the age and design of the county’s existing shelter at 4525 W. Wendover Ave. contribute to its problems.

Likewise, Sheriff’s Department staff wants to move out of the county’s Otto Zenke building, which has been in bad shape for years. That building suffered a major structural blow from flooding during a massive rainstorm about eight years ago.

Last summer, the commissioners decided to move the department’s administrative services into the old jail rather than build a new headquarters for the Sheriff’s Department. On Thursday, August 17, the county approved the purchase of land on Guilford College Road for the new shelter, which will be about a mile and a half from the existing shelter.

Guilford County sent out a request for qualifications in late June and got a good response for both jobs. Unlike some government contracts for supplies and construction, architectural contracts don’t have to go to the lowest responsible bidder. The county can instead select the provider and then negotiate price.

Former Guilford County Animal Services Director Drew Brinkley was a member of the committee to search for a shelter architect; however, he resigned from his job in late July, about a week before the committee made its final selection.

At the Sept. 21 meeting, Guilford County Facilities, Parks and Property Management Director Robert McNiece spoke about PNP Design Group and its proposal for the shelter project.

“They put together a good team of the various players,” he said. “They’re local and they do a lot of work for Guilford County.”

McNiece said the first step of the process will be to determine the scope of needed services at the facility. That will provide information on capacity and space needs and offer a more concrete cost estimate for the project.

“We will continue to work with them through design and construction [phases],” he told the board.

McNiece also said the firm will partner with animal services experts due to the special nature of the shelter project.

These days, just about any time the Guilford County Board of Commissioners hires an architect, the commissioners engage in a long drawn-out discussion about why the county doesn’t hire more black architects, and the board’s Sept. 21 meeting was no exception.

For years, Guilford County Commissioner Carolyn Coleman has been trying to get the county to use more black-owned architectural firms and that’s been an ongoing battle with county staff, who say they have bent over backwards to meet that request.

There was some positive movement on that front at the Sept. 21 meeting: Guilford County added two minority architectural firms to its “on-call” list of firms used for projects under $250,000. Those services include things like design plans for space alterations, engineering evaluations, inspection services and contract preparation assistance. Some on-call county contracts will be awarded to the Hispanic-owned Raymond Engineering firm in Raleigh, as well as to Alabi Architecture in Durham, a black-owned firm.

Coleman said that getting minority architects on that list has taken too long.

“I’ve been trying for three years to get one on the list so it’s moving very slowly – with all the work we’ve done, it’s been moving slowly,” she told McNiece.

Coleman and Commissioner Skip Alston also both told staff that the county should review a staff requirement that architectural firms must have at least two architects in order do business with the county. They said that might be one thing that keeps some minority firms out of the mix.

McNiece explained the reasoning for the requirement.

“If something happens there is more than one person who knows something about it,” he said. “So there’s other people with some level of backup.”

Alston pointed out that this wasn’t a policy adopted by the Board of Commissioners but was instead merely a decision made by staff.

“We don’t have a policy that says we must do that,” Alston said. “It’s just a staff recommendation and some of us may feel like it’s unnecessary or it’s unfair.”

Alston said the Board of Commissioners needs to revisit the constraint.

“It’s not a policy and we shouldn’t say you ‘must’ do that,” he said.

Commissioner Alan Branson said of the policies, efforts and practices that influence minority participation in architectural bids, “I sure wish we could get it figured out because this has been an ongoing topic for months on end. We don’t need to delay these projects; we need to move them forward.”

Coleman said, “We’re not stopping anything.”

“Well, you’re sure trying,” Branson said.