County poised to move DSS to human-services center

Sep. 29, 2013 @ 06:42 PM

County officials are ready to move Durham’s Department of Social Services into its new headquarters starting midweek, consolidating operations now scattered in different parts of the city.
The transition will occur in phases, with different DSS operations taking turns at overnight or over-weekend moves. Most of the job will be complete by noon on Oct. 14.
Administrators say the consolidation will make the Health and Human Services Building at 414 E. Main St. a one-stop shop for clients of some of the county’s major services.
The Department of Public Health has been in the complex since the spring of 2011.
“We think people are going to be pleased with it,” County Engineer Glen Whisler said. “It’s a building that will really allow the services to be delivered efficiently.”
Whisler and DSS Director Michael Becketts voiced confidence that the upcoming move, which begins Wednesday night, will proceed smoothly.
Planning for it began months ago, and the county has recent experience in orchestrating such transitions. It opened a new courthouse in February.
“Our biggest concern is that people are going to come to the old buildings when they should be coming to the new one,” Becketts said, alluding to existing DSS offices on West Main Street and on Duke Street. “That goes with the transition, but people will get frustrated.”
He added that people with questions about where they should go while the transition is still unfolding should call the department at 919-560-8000 for information.
A schedule of the moves is also available on the Web at http://bit.ly/1awcinN.
Welcome though it may be to county officials, the impending completion and full occupancy of the human-services center is far behind its original schedule and the focus of a scheduled mediation with its builder.
The $92 million project unfolded in two phases and in theory was to have been complete in the spring of 2012.
Officials green-lighted the start of construction early in 2009.
Whisler said the county’s reckoning is that the project’s 552 days late, even counting the 17-day contract extension the builder, New Atlantic Contracting Inc. of Winston-Salem, got to deal with the removal of underground storage tanks from the site.
He and County Manager Mike Ruffin referred questions about the delays to County Attorney Lowell Siler, who confirmed lawyers have been helping administrators ride herd on the final stages of the project.
“The primary emphasis now is to just get it completed, as quickly as possible and in the manner in which we want it completed,” Siler said, also confirming plans for mediation with New Atlantic.
Siler was vague when asked for the county’s take on the reasons for the delay.
“It kind of boils down to, in our opinion, just a matter of how well things were managed,” he said, adding there were questions about whether contractors had “the right people there at the right times” trades-wise.