Inside County Government

Construction underway on former Charlotte School of Law building

Interior remodeling is starting on a building near uptown that’s destined to become the new home of Mecklenburg County’s Land Use and Environmental Services Agency (LUESA) – perhaps the first tangible signs of progress in the county’s ambitious facilities master plan.

Next year, LUESA and its 500-plus employees will completely move out of the Hal Marshall Center on North Tryon Street and into 2145 Suttle Ave., a 100,000-square-foot building that once housed the Charlotte School of Law. The county purchased the building for $16 million.

The relocation is a piece of the county’s “Bringing Mecklenburg County to You” initiative, a massive effort to build six community resource centers that encompass east Charlotte around uptown and swoop south into Pineville. It also includes changes to some county facilities, such as moving MEDIC to a new headquarters and renovating parts of the Valerie C. Woodard building.

Plans call for LUESA’s new offices on Suttle Avenue to be outfitted with a customer service center on its main floor that will reflect an overhaul in how the agency performs its duties, particularly code enforcement.

Last year, the county and city of Charlotte spent $325,000 to hire an outside consultant to study how the government bodies could improve their collaboration and eliminate delays and confusion when performing inspections and authorizing permits for developers, homeowners and real estate professionals.

LUESA’s functions include code enforcement, water and land resources, air quality and solid waste and recycling.

Demolition contractors were on site this week, setting up their work space to begin a “very limited” demolition on the first floor of the building, County Manager Dena Diorio said. The bulk of that work includes ripping some of the concrete on the first floor to run electric and data wiring underneath the building for electric boxes in the customer service center.

Builders also will construct new offices for water and air laboratories, Diorio said. The county’s hired Rodgers Builders, a Charlotte-based contractor, to do the work. The company has overseen construction and renovation on buildings for Queens University of Charlotte, the USC School of Medicine, Wells Fargo and Ballantyne Village.

A grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony at the Suttle Avenue building is planned for Jan. 4, when code enforcement employees will move into the new space. All of LUESA will move there by March.

Bundling for bids

Movement on the Suttle Avenue building comes a week after commissioners voted 8-1 to bundle $175 million worth of capital projects to make construction pacts more attractive to general contractors. The county found it difficult to secure bids for those projects.

“We’re finding that there are not enough contractors available to bid the projects and, when we do have enough contractors, the bids are coming in over-budget,” Mark Hahn, director of the county’s asset and facility management division, said last week. “I’ve not quite seen anything like this before.”

The biggest reason for the stalled bids, he said: The economic downturn that put numerous contractors and subcontractors out of business, while creating pent-up construction demand.

Now, on the other side of the recession, there are fewer contractors available to bid on public sector projects, Hahn said. Those that are able to do the work are looking for projects with sizable payouts. Combining the smaller projects into larger ones would motivate quality contractors to submit bids, he said.

Example of the county bundling construction projects: Take three individual projects worth $1 million and bundle them into a single bid worth $3 million.

“Several larger contractors have said they would be interested in bidding on these larger projects,” Hahn said.

Commissioner George Dunlap urged the board to support merging the projects, citing a delay in the construction of a greenway in University City that would link the UNC Charlotte campus to nearby neighborhoods and retail.

Neighbors there are upset the project has taken so long, he said, causing some to raise concerns “about the county not doing what it’s supposed to do.” But the source of the stall is that the project’s gone to bid twice but came in over budget both times, Dunlap said.

“This is one way of trying to get the project moving forward,” he said Thursday.

The vote to bundle the projects does not set a new policy for the county but is an option officials will consider to move along projects that aren’t securing bids.