Sheriff’s Office, 911 Center Could Be Moving Out Of Johnston County Courthouse

County Considering New Two-Story Public Safety Center On Highway 70 East 

SMITHFIELD –  Johnston County Commissioners are considering a request to construct a new Public Safety / Law Enforcement Center adjacent to a new Detention Center being built on Highway 70 just east of Interstate 95.

Contractors recently started construction on a new 112,000 square foot Detention Center on Highway 70 at Yelverton Grove Road.  TA Loving Company is building the new jail facility for $36,694,900, or about $12 million under the original price estimate. Officials said the bid was low because of a slowdown in commercial construction due to COVID-19.  The bid was awarded in June 2020.

Because of the $12 million cost savings and the potential to take advantage of lower than normal commercial construction prices, Johnston County Commissioners are considering building a Public Safety / Law Enforcement Center on the same 25.3 acre parcel.

Commissioners received a report on Monday, August 3rd suggesting the Johnston County Sheriff’s Office, 911 Center and Emergency Management could occupy a new two-story 58,347 square foot building on the property.  The sheriff’s office would occupy the first floor. The 911 Center and emergency management would share second floor office space.  The building would cost an estimated $17.4 million.

“I think this is a great opportunity to move the County forward. This is a tremendous opportunity with a favorable bidding climate. This is a perfect time to move forward with this project and move as swiftly as we can. Construction costs and bidding costs will never be less than they will today,” stated Commissioner Patrick Harris.

There are three different options on where to place the new Public Safety Center, but the preferred site is facing Highway 70. The new Detention Center would be situated behind the proposed Public Safety Center.

Representatives with Moseley Architects, who designed the new detention center, have agreed to design the new public safety center.  They believe the new building can be constructed and opened as early as February 2022, the same month the new detention center will open, barring any unforeseen delays.  To open at the same time, construction on the public safety building would need to begin no later than mid-2021.

The sheriff’s office, 911 center and emergency management have all outgrown their offices inside the county courthouse. The new Public Safety Center would give them room to expand.

Johnston County 911 Director Jason Barbour says his department is out of space at the Johnston County Courthouse. “I am very pleased that the commissioners are looking to construct a new public safety center.  The 911 center has been experiencing an increase in call volume for a while now.  We are planning to design the building to be able to handle our projected growth for 15 to 20 years.  We are currently at our capacity in our current 911 center, in fact we have had to move our Training/Quality Assurance Division to our backup center.”

If the three county public safety agencies move, it would free up about 20,500 square feet of space inside the courthouse for other departments.  There is current need for additional space by several departments including the Clerk of Court, Register of Deeds and District Attorney. There is also the need for more courtrooms.

Commissioner Jeff Carver said, “I would like to know if we do move everything out of the courthouse, what will it cost to backfill that?”  Carver later addressed the cost of the new detention center that came in $12 million under budget.  “We didn’t save $12 million dollars. We didn’t spend that money.”

“Before I spent taxpayers money… I need to know how many school sites we are behind. I am not ready to push that button just yet,” Carver added.

“I kinda agree with Jeff (Carver),” Vice Chairman Chad Stewart stated.

Commissioners agreed to authorize Moseley Architects to move forward with the design of a new public safety building.  Once the design is completed, commissioners will evaluate the current financial climate and determine if they will move forward with construction next year.

Commissioner Harris pointed out that 99 percent of the county debt is for school construction. Not including the detention center, the last time Johnston County built a government building was the Agricultural Center on Highway 210 which opened in 2005.

If the three county departments eventually leave the Johnston County Courthouse in Downtown Smithfield it could have a potential impact on many small downtown businesses, including restaurants that county employees patronize.

“While our preference has always been for county departments and their employees to remain downtown because of their impact on the downtown economy, we understand the need for additional space for those departments as well as the court system, which we understand will expand into the space vacated after the completion of the Public Safety Center,” stated Sarah Edwards, Executive Director of the Downtown Smithfield Development Corporation.

“It is our hope that the employees who have supported our locally owned restaurants and businesses in Downtown Smithfield will continue to do so; after all, there are only 2.4 miles between the courthouse and the site of the new facility, and our downtown businesses are certainly with the drive!”

Hester, the county manager, said the $17.4 million safety center, if approved, would likely be paid for with a mix of cash reserves and a loan.

The design of the new Law Enforcement Center should be completed around the end of this year.  To stay on track for a February 2022 opening date (to tie in with the opening of the Detention Center) bids would need to be advertised no later than May 2021 with construction starting in July 2021.