Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Skip Alston had a lot of questions for county staff at the board’s afternoon work session on Thursday, Oct. 19 as to why it was taking so long to demolish the old jail in downtown Greensboro to make way for the Sheriff’s Department’s new headquarters.
County staff have now pushed the estimated opening date for the headquarters back to the fall of 2025 – even though the sheriff and his top staff have been waiting years for their new home.
Alston is a big advocate for Guilford County Sheriff Danny Rogers – who, like many top administrators in the Sheriff’s Department, is anxious to get out of the dilapidated headquarters in the Otto Zenke building and move in to a shiny new facility.
At the afternoon work session on Thursday, held in the third-floor conference room of the county-owned Truist Bank building, Alston pressed staff as to why all work on the project had apparently stopped.
“I drive by there four or five times a day,” Alston said. “The sheriff keeps asking ‘What’s going on with the jail? What’s going on with the jail?’”
Alston added that, after the Board of Commissioners pulled out of a contract with Samet Corp in February, which was doing the work, the job of demolishing the old jail went on hold, but added that the county had entered into a new agreement with another company four months ago and still nothing was happening. Alston added that if it was going to be February 2024 before the demolition begins, then the building would have sat there for a whole year without any work being done on it.
Guilford County Facilities, Parks and Property Management Eric Hilton said that one major factor in the delay was the implementation of the county’s new MWBE plan and procedures.
In early 2023, the county adopted a new stringent MWBE policy which meant that staff had to make extra effort to comply.
“To dive a little deeper into the MWBE outreach,” Hilton told the board at the work session, “that’s where a lot of our time has been spent in the last few months. We initiated a significant effort to build a prequalification process and outreach program that complies with the board’s goals and policies.”
He said the county had held two MWBE events related to the project and there were two more planned. He said those had been successful in creating prequalified companies and in engaging the MWBE subcontractor pool.
Hilton said that county staff had spent a “tremendous amount of time,” on the project and Frank L. Blum Construction, the project manager at risk, had “devoted an amazing amount of time” – including huge efforts to recruit MWBE participants.
Alston said he wished staff had come back to him and the board and let them know that the new MWBE rules would hold the project up.
Guilford County Manager Mike Halford also said that the county’s major new MWBE initiative was taking time and said that he would take responsibility if anyone wanted to complain that the board was not told about the MWBE initiative causing a delay.
“That’s on me,” Halford,” Halford told the board.
The two county administrators could not say it but the board has really put them in an impossible position because the board – Alston in particular – is simultaneously pushing staff to move as fast as possible on a number of projects, all while implementing a new powerful MWBE initiative that extends thw timeline of those projects.
An MWBE issue was at the heart of the midstream cancellation by the county of the contract with Samet, and county staff certainly do not want to see the board pull out of a new agreement again for similar reasons.