By Richard Sullins |

Lee County Commissioners approved a contract Monday of just over $2 million for the schematic drawings, design development, and construction documents for the Multi-Sports Complex approved by voters in 2020. Republican Commissioner Bill Carver cast the lone dissenting vote.

McAdams, a civil engineering, land planning, landscape architecture and geomatics company that also has offices in Raleigh and Charlotte, was selected as the project’s designer in February. The contract will also include prequalification and assistance with the construction bidding process.

A redesign of the complex proposed this summer would move the soccer fields to where the championship fields had originally been planned. This reconfiguration would create at least 6 soccer fields, which equates to 10 practice fields. The original layout included five baseball fields, playgrounds, and walking trails.

County Development Services Director Santiago Giraldo told the commissioners the redesign doesn’t do away with anything but instead allows the project to be built in phases to keep construction costs down.

Carver questioned whether the escalating estimates justified moving ahead with the full scope of the project, something the remaining commissioners said in July they want to do.

“It’s not hard to imagine why so many people in the county want this resource for all of us. Back then, we had a $25 million cap. We are at the point now where McAdams is shooting for around $40 million,” he said. “The County Manager was advising us (in July) to pursue this effort because of inflation. But we are still going to be looking at $35 million, which is $10 million more than anticipated. I’m still not convinced that this is a good expenditure of money.”

Carver recommended the board either construct just the soccer fields or put another question before the voters as to whether to increase spending on the project to $35 million. His suggestion failed to get support from any other commissioner.

This action puts the project back into motion after having paused further development in mid-summer. That decision was made after the commissioners were advised in July that the total costs for the project had risen to almost $74 million – more than double the amount that had been estimated when the project was sold to the voters.

The hope was that by putting work on the design aspects of the complex project on hold temporarily, steadily increasing prices for materials and labor would begin to come down. The original estimates for constructing the Multi-Sports Complex were between $25 and $30 million.

The site where the complex is to be located is adjacent to the intersection of U.S. 421 and N.C. 42, known locally as Broadway Road. The tract of land upon which the complex will be developed is comprised of 119.82 acres and was authorized on November 3, 2020, when 58.59 percent of the voters approved a bond referendum for the project.

Giraldo told the Commissioners in July “cost escalations are normally about 4 percent each year. But for the past couple of years, the average has been closer to 20 percent per year.”

He recommended that in the case of a huge undertaking like this one that could see as much as 80 acres of earthmoving work, commissioners should proceed slowly at first to minimize the risk of making mistakes that could cost the county millions over the long haul.

Affordable housing funds approved

The board also voted to approve an expenditure of $850,000 as their share of costs for an affordable housing project in a new subdivision being built on Washington Avenue. The county’s allocation is being matched by the city of Sanford as part of a Community Development Block Grant proposal that will be submitted before September 30.

The request was made by Brick Capital Community Development Corporation, a nonprofit organization that has worked since 1990 in Sanford and Lee County to create single-family and multi-family housing to sell to working families earning less than 80 percent of median income for the county.

Brick Capital Executive Director Kerry Bashaw said this project has been in the works for almost two years and would create 45 new single-family homes and a 16-unit apartment complex to be constructed on the site in a community land trust model.

Community land trusts are a form of permanently affordable housing in which an organization such as Brick Capital retains ownership of the land while selling or renting the housing constructed on the property to lower income households.

If the housing is sold by the homeowner at some future point, the family earns a portion of the equity that has built up in the home and, in the case of Brick Capital, that share is split 50/50. The remainder is kept by the CLT to preserve the affordability to low- and moderate-income families.

Republican Commissioner Andre Knecht asked whether county funds might be leveraged to access state dollars to increase the pots of money available.

“Brick Capital has a long history of helping teachers to obtain housing here in this county and we continue to remain focused on the workforce, especially those in the public sector that also include policemen and firemen, and the work that they do,” Bashaw responded.

Funding for the project will come from a portion of the county’s allocation of nearly $12 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding provided by Congress to help the economy recover from the effects of the COVID pandemic.