Guilford County staff has brought a need for extensive repairs in the county’s building at 325 E. Russell Ave. to the attention of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners.
It will mean putting hundreds of thousands more taxpayer dollars into a building that’s been a money pit ever since the county bought it in 2008.
The county purchased the building from a friend and business associate of former Guilford County commissioner Steve Arnold 12 years ago and drastically overpaid for it – paying perhaps eight times the actual value or more.
Known as the Langford Building, that building now houses the county’s social services operations in High Point, as well as other county offices, the building has had problems with leaks, asbestos, a faulty roof, ants, rodents, underground contamination, acoustic issues and more.
This time around, repairs to brick and mortar walls are needed to alleviate flooding in the building’s lower levels. The commissioners are currently considering a $907,000 repair project that would also include repairs to the county’s courthouse in downtown High Point.
Commissioner Alan Branson wasn’t a commissioner in 2008, but Commissioner Skip Alston was, and, at the Board of Commissioners, Thursday, July 16 meeting, Branson brought up the purchase and made it a point to call out Alston on his support of the move years ago.
“Is that correct Skip, that we purchased it around 08?” Branson asked at the Thursday, July 16 commissioners meeting that was held virtually. “Do you remember it?”
“Mr. Branson, I remember it well, and, so you can correct your history, I was not an advocate – a proponent of it,” Alston said. “It was your fellow Republican commissioner, Steve Arnold. I supported it, I voted for it – but he was the main one who spearheaded that.”
Alston added, “And, yes, we did have some problems with it – it’s no secret. And we continue to have problems with it. So you are exactly right – but you are wrong on the fact that I was spearheading for it and advocating for it.”
“I didn’t say you spearheaded it,” Branson said.
“But you mentioned my name intentionally in that reference,” Alston shot back.
In the 2008 deal that was later investigated by the IRS and the FBI, Guilford County purchased the building from a close friend of Arnold’s. No charges were ever filed.
According to records at the Guilford County Register of Deeds office, the building sold for $1 million in 2003, and, after five more years of deterioration – while the nation’s economy was collapsing and housing prices were tanking – Guilford County paid $8.14 million for the building that was built in 1916.
In 1994, the date of the previous sale of the building, the building sold for $40,000 as part of a bankruptcy sale. That is not a typo.
Making the 2008 purchase more bizarre, the county had already voted to build a new social services building in High Point and had already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on designing that building. So merely reversing course and buying any building was an expensive move.
At the time the commissioners were presented with purchasing the Russell Avenue building, former Guilford County Commissioner Kirk Perkins pointed out that the board was being asked to purchase a building without even being told which building it was. He noted at a commissioners meeting that the board had no address, no picture and, for the first time he’d ever seen, no appraisal.
“Is the location a secret?” a frustrated Perkins asked staff at a meeting at that time.