By Richard Sullins |

A local contracting company will be leading the construction work to create Lee County’s Multi-Sports Complex following a unanimous vote Monday by the county board of commissioners. Unless some unforeseen circumstances come up, equipment could be on-site and moving earth as early as the first of November.

Sanford Contractors submitted the lowest base bid for the project, coming in at $26,817,160. Two other firms also submitted bids for the complex, BAR Construction Company of Greensboro ($27,517,000), and Conti Civic of Garner ($42,961,442).

Sanford Contractors’ bid also includes bids for two add-ons to the project if funds are available after the base bid is completed. The first is $3,628,437 for additional restrooms and two natural turf fields. The second alternate would construct a compacted earth walking trail at the complex at a cost of $116,796.

A separate series of votes paved the way for financing the project. The commissioners approved the issuance and sale of $25 million in Limited Obligation Bonds for initial funding, along with the execution of the legal documents to authorize the sale.

The Local Government Commission approved the sale of the bonds on Tuesday morning and before the end of business that afternoon, they had been sold for just under $26.7 million.

A long and winding road

It’s been nearly three years since Lee County voters approved a $25 million bond referendum that approved the complex in the November 2020 election by more than 58 percent, but progress toward the start of actual construction has characterized by fits and starts.

The property itself is located near the intersection of the U.S. 421 bypass and Broadway Road, on a 119.82 acre lot. A portion of the land was donated to the county by the Stewart family and the remainder was purchased from the Myrtle Matthews Poe property in 2021 for $1,914,000. The county had spent the early part of that year performing due diligence work at the site before making its investments.

The McAdams firm from Durham, a civil engineering, land planning, landscape architecture and geomatics company, was selected as design firm in 2022, and it was when McAdams brought its first cost estimate the same year that things went sideways. A shortage of building materials and runaway inflation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic caused the projected costs for the project to more than double, ballooning from $25 million to more than $70 million.

The commissioners paused all plans for the project to consider whether it could even be done in the prevailing economic environment. As inflation began to cool late in the summer of 2022, they voted by a 6-1 margin to authorize McAdams to move forward with creation of the construction drawings.

Hard decisions were made in November when McAdams returned with plans to bring the project under budget, but it meant the elimination of softball fields and a planned baseball stadium that would have hosted the Sanford Spinners. The final designs were completed in the spring of this year, and they went out for bid to contractors in late July. (Editor’s note: the complex does still include fields for baseball, just not a “championship” field as had been previously planned. See clarification here.)

But there is still plenty to take care of if construction is to start on time. The state Department of Transportation has determined that no enhancement fee will be required for the control of access break across the widened section that is being planned of Broadway Road at the entrance to the complex, and roadway improvements and driveway permits have yet to be negotiated. Contract negotiations with Sanford Contractors must be concluded, and all necessary construction permits will have to be obtained.

Projected economic impact

The commissioners’ vote on Monday clears the last major hurdles toward the startup of the engines on the giant earthmoving equipment where the complex will one day serve the many youth soccer programs in the county, as well as serving as the host site for regional soccer tournaments.

Families from across central and eastern North Carolina, and potentially even from neighboring states, are projected to come to Sanford for weekend contests, which could turn into an economic bonanza for restaurants, hotels, and merchants in Lee County.

Jimmy Randolph, CEO of the Sanford Area Growth Alliance, spoke to the commissioners in February 2022 about the importance of the complex to the region’s growing economy.

“As the demand for our labor force has continued to grow, it’s world-class amenities like this that will help our community to continue to grow even more,” he said at the time. “As more and more high-quality residential options become available in Lee County, it may be that amenities like the Multi-Sports Complex determine whether a new generation of citizens decides to become tax paying citizens or live somewhere else.”

Steps toward jail improvements

The commissioners turned their attention Monday to addressing the need for improvements to the Lee County Jail. The facility suffers from overcrowding and other issues being seen at similar facilities across the country, including the smuggling of drugs among inmates.

The commissioners gave unanimous approval to the selection of Moseley Architects of Raleigh to conduct a feasibility study of the effectiveness, efficiency, structural integrity, security, and capacity requirements for the current facility at 1400 South Horner Boulevard, built in 1994 with a capacity of 126 inmates.

The study is expected to identify weaknesses and needs in the current jail, as well as developing a listing of rooms and other spaces that are required by federal and state rules. It will also consider the need for medical, mental health, and behavioral facilities of the jail’s population, as well as implementing applications of emerging technologies where appropriate to make the space more efficient and safer.

Development Services Director Brandon Key told the commissioners Moseley was recommended because of their experience in designing similar facilities in neighboring counties and an extensive background in successful designs on other related projects. In another unanimous decision, the commissioners approved $59,756 toward a design contract with Mosely for the project, and a contract is expected to be presented to the commissioners for their consideration in October.

Moseley is expected to return with recommendations in early 2024 that could include renovations, expansion, or even construction of a new jail facility. If a determination is made that a new jail and detention center is needed, the costs could fall anywhere from $65 to $100 million.