2018 off to a running start in Walterboro | News | The Press and Standard
by The Press and Standard | January 4, 2018 5:00 pm
Last Updated: January 3, 2018 at 10:09 am
Walterboro city government is going to be busy in 2018.
City officials anticipate advertising for bids on the Discovery Center project this month.
City Manager Jeff Molinari expects the first quarter of the new year will be taken up by going through the bid process and getting it approved.
“Construction should probably begin in the second quarter,” Molinari said. “The Discovery Center work timeline has roughly a nine-month construction period.” The renovation of the building’s exterior and interior and the construction of the amphitheater will be handled by the same general contractor.
At the same time the contract for the Discovery Center is being finalized, the city is working with the South Carolina Department of Transportation on the final details of the next phase of Business Loop project, the streetscape work on Jefferies Boulevard from Elizabeth Street to Benson Street. Once the details have been worked out, Molinari said, the city will submit the plans to SCDOT for review. He anticipates work on the next stage of the Loop Project will begin this year.
Scheduling the Loop Project and Discovery Center work has required “a little bit of coordination,” Molinari said. “One of the things that we have had to reconcile between architects working on streetscape project and the architects working on the Discovery Center was placement of the base of the mass arm that will hold the stop light at Jefferies Boulevard and Hampton Street aloft.
“The initial placement put it really close to the Discovery Center building. We do not want to have anything to detract from the improvements to the façade,” Molinari said.
The plan is to shift the location of the base a few feet. That entailed getting permission from city council to waive any charges SCDOT would have to pay for the easements.
The work on both projects, he added, is also going to involve some coordination. “The timing is good in that you will see a lot of activity in that area. It is going to make the Discovery Center all the more attractive with all the streetscape improvements around it,” he said.
In addition to not having the base for the mass arm detract from the appearance of the Discovery Center, Molinari added, the city’s acquisition of the neighboring parking lot from the county means that the parking area in front of the Discovery Center will disappear. We are fortunate that areas that could have had asphalt will now be landscaped.”
Molinari has been pleased how the addition of the amphitheater to the Discovery Center project has progressed.
When the city purchased the former car dealership building in 2013, he said the talk about the potential of the rear of the property began. “There is such a nice, natural slope there” and that began the discussion of possibly being able to situate an amphitheater downtown, Molinari said. “It is great open space that will create a lot synergy and activity.”
“I think there is going to be a lot of activity there,” he added. It can be home to concerts, plays and movies. Molinari said, “There are so many possibilities.”
January should see the new municipal government service center at 300 Hampton Street up and running.
Molinari said the flooring and the installation of cabinets are the two major things left to be completed.
“We hope to get in there in January,” Molinari said. “The moving will be contingent on getting the renovations done.”
The move into the new building will be done over a weekend. “The objective is to move and have no interruption in service,” he explained.
The building will “have everything that our citizens deal with us directly —water bills, municipal court, building permits and business licenses under one roof,” Molinari said. “It should be more convenient for everybody who does business with the city and also provide a much better, larger workspace for our employees.”
City officials have not determined what the new facility will be named. Molinari said, “We have tossed around a few ideas but the important thing has been getting the renovations done.”
The city, in January, also expects to rebid a portion of the third phase of the North Lemacks Revitalization Project, a three-year neighborhood development project funding through the federal government’s Community Development Block Grant program.
The multi-year project had different components. The first component was housing rehab, which had the city working with Mission Serve. Grant money was used to cover the cost of materials, and Mission Serve provided the volunteers to handle the labor on the exterior improvements to the homes.
Last year, the second component to the project, demolishing the blighted properties in the North Lemacks Street neighborhood, was done.
Phase three has a number of different components, Molinari said. They include streetscape improvements, a proposed trail at the park, lighting and entryway signage.
While phase one and two were completed under budget, that is not the case with phase three.
“We are currently working with the South Carolina Department of Commerce (the flow-through agency for the CDBG funds),” Molinari said. “The prices on the bids were more than what we have available in the grant, so we are having to move some things around. We have to rebid that project in January.”
Molinari suspects that increased building activity is the reason the bids were high, but he is unsure if that is also going to affect the price of the Discovery Center project.
“We have to face the reality that there is a lot of construction activity going on around the whole state,” he said. “All we can do bid it out and see what happens.”
February should find the improvements to the wastewater treatment plant finished. That work began early in 2017.
The improvements became necessary when the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control informed the city that it would have to alter the way the city disposed of the sludge generated by the treatment of the wastewater.
The city had been trucking the wet sludge to unused property the city owned outside the city limits and deposited it there.
DHEC said that the city would have to generate dry sludge and dispose of it at a landfill approved for the disposal of sludge.
When the city was informed it had to alter the process of handling the sludge, city officials began taking the steps to have the improvements designed and obtain the funding.
City officials had to rent screw presses to dewater the sludge while that work was going on, an expense Molinari labeled as “quite costly.”
The design work, Molinari said, sought a way “to make permanent improvements to dewater sludge in the most efficient manner.
“This project is critical: not only does it satisfy DHEC requirements, it also put us in the position to look at the next step in the process, expanding the capacity of the treatment plant,” Molinari explained. “That is a goal that city council has had for some time.”
Increasing capacity is primarily an economic development tool. Although the wastewater plant operations are not at capacity now, Molinari said, “We never want to be in a position where we have to turn anyone away because we don’t have capacity in the plant to serve them.”
Early in 2018, Walterboro city officials will begin their work on the 2018-2019 municipal budget.
Molinari has been watching the numbers. “Overall, if you look at some of the indicators that I like to focus on, you get a good feel of where the economy in the city is heading.”
He likes what he has seen. “The local option sales tax continues to trend upward.” He likes the numbers he is seeing from the Hospitality and Local Accommodation taxes. The figures from those three revenue sources, he explained, “are directly related to what people are paying at the cash register.”
New commercial businesses are setting up shop in Walterboro. Commercial construction, he said, “has been very brisk.”
It appears, Molinari added, that he sees few homes on the market, “which is a good sign.”