At their regular meeting on Sept. 27 Swansboro commissioners continued their look into providing an emergency operations center capable of keeping town staff safe in the event of a major hurricane.

Following Hurricane Florence in 2018, Swansboro learned that the town’s Public Safety Facility was not capable of protecting the town’s critical staff, police, fire and administration, in a storm event that was higher than a Category 1 hurricane.

Russell Pearlman of the Wooten Company, the town’s engineering firm, provided a very detailed look at what it would take to refit the existing Public Safety Facility to bring it up to code – capable of withstanding a Category 3 hurricane.

“It would meet the wind load expected in your area,” Pearlman said of the retrofit.

The message he brought is that he believed retrofitting the building would cost just as much – about $6 million – as buying property and constructing a new building that would be twice as large. Pearlman even brought along a design for the 22,000-square-foot building that he said could serve the town’s emergency services needs through 2050.

“If we look at the cost,” Pearlman said. “It’s better to start from scratch if you want to meet the building code as it currently stands.”

But, while Pearlman provided these two options, Commissioner Frank Tursi questioned why other options have not be offered.

“My understanding is this is supposed to be an analysis of the alternatives,” Tursi said.

Other alternatives would be sharing EOC space with Onslow County or creating a regional facility that would include nearby Cedar Point and perhaps other local governments.

Currently, the town is planning to use a remote site – Building 2 of the Swansboro United Methodist Church – in the event of a major weather event. So that is another alternative. An investigation after the meeting by Commissioner Laurent Meilleur turned up other possibilities, including a nearby facility. (See related article.)

Tursi made it clear that he was not interested in coming to a conclusion until all avenues are explored.

Meilleur questioned the need for Pearlman’s work and presentation – which apparently cost about $14,000 – in light of a similar study presented a year ago.

“You are reaffirming … that the current building is not suitable for a rebuild,” Meilleur said to Pearlman.

Pearlman said while that was true, his report went into greater detail than the earlier study.

Chris Seaberg, town manager, provided more details on the difference.

“One of the things the previous engineer was not privy to was the foundation,” Seaberg said. “The information on that was not readily available.”

Pearlman then discussed with the panel the proposed design for the new building.

He said the 21,900-square-foot building could be built on property in the area of N.C. 24 and Swansboro-Belgrade Road. It would be double the size of the current building, which is 10,900 square feet.

Tursi, who referred to the proposed building as a “Taj Mahal,” pointed out that the area is outside of town limits and at an extreme end.

Mayor John Davis asked Pearlman if the building could be built in phases.

“It could be done,” Pearlman replied, but it would be most economical for certain aspects of the construction to completed in their entirety, he added.

Commissioner Larry Philpott said he would prefer a location closer to the center of town in order to maximize response time.

He also said that in addition to the cost of construction, the town could expect a significant increase in the cost of upkeep and maintenance with a new building.

Commissioner Pat Turner said that due to the cost of the project, she would not want to even consider it without allowing the taxpayers of the town to weigh in.

“I … want to stress what I said before, we are a small town … I don’t see us spending this kind of money,” she said. She suggested the question be put to a vote in a referendum.

For his part, Tursi urged the board to consider other alternatives, sharing with the county or a regional facility.

“If the board thinks those are two alternatives that could be considered, now is the time before it gets too far down the road,” he said.

Davis said he did not think the county option would work.

“Everything I’ve heard from the county is they don’t have the room,” he said.

“I don’t know that officially,” Tursi said.

While not offering an official report from the county, Seaberg said that in a response prior to COVID, the county indicated it could not accommodate the town personnel.

Tursi was not put off.

“We need to have a serious discussion before we commit ourselves,” he said.

Email Jimmy Williams at jimmy at tidelandnews.com.

For more on this story purchase a copy of the Oct. 27, 2021, Tideland News.

(10) comments

David Collins

How would any of this keep “ the town “ safe from anything . Will provide shelter for any officials that chose to seek it along with some equipment and hopefully reliable communication “ radio “ but the rest of you are on your own .

These engineering studies you love to commission and then table are all about money . The more the better , for them . The bigger and more ornate the structure , the more will be spent on design . Design protects no one and nothing . It is the execution that provides substance and it looks like that is a long way off .

High ground , high ground , high ground . Perhaps any newcomers might see the advantage of high ground for that concept appears to be lost with this group .

The Methodist Church seems to be the structure of choice in all this . Why ? Other than it is there , it is the way it is solidly constructed . Take a lesson from this . Do not do this on the cheap . Cheap can be really expensive .

noitall

I would not call this idea stupid because if I did it would not pass censorship but it does walk like a duck so----------whatever

Swasnboro_Native

Every contractor is gonna tell you it's easier to start from scratch. Every one of them. They can't make money any other way.

David Collins

While more dithering ensues they can concentrate on spending more money on expensive decorations . A fitting swan song for some .

noitall

We need a clean sweep of this council and some of their underlings as well. We can always do better with new people - new people will be more anxious to please and will listen - at least for a while.

noitall

Six million just to remodel?? Can we see a detail of this white elephant? Can we vote on it. This is beyond the realm of reality.

noitall

What happens if the Center is turned down? Will we still be safe?? Still being the operative verb. This idea is not a good use of money confiscated from us and spent for what??

David Collins

Might be a cool place to hang out in plus tell the folks “see what I have done for you “ . A politician’s dream , a legacy .

noitall

Can Wooten point to a successful center they have created? And lets see how it has performed. I would favor underground to negate tornadoes. I am serious. This facility has to be a perfect and absolutely secure facility with all electronic stuff and a survival chamber with food and medicine for the big storms coming from global warming. Any thoughts. the lives of 3217 souls are on the line. About $2,000 each + overrun and unknown-unknown money.

David Collins

Good lord , please don’t give them any ideas . Was hoping this emergency center thing would run it’s course and die off like so many other bright , or not so bright , ideas . History pretty much predicts that at best it would be poorly thought out , half tailed constructed with inappropriate materials and in a poor location . Not to mention the aesthetics of it all . Cost is of no concern .

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