Blowing Rock hears updates on 321, hospital projects
by Jeff Eason
Doug Eller, resident engineer for the North Carolina Department of Transportation, and Rob Hudspeth, senior vice president of advancement with the Appalachian Regional Healthcare System, explained to the crowd why the U.S. 321 widening project and the new health care facility, respectively, have moved their completion dates to a later time.
"We have a North Carolina Rural Center grant for $585,495 that has been frozen by the government in Raleigh. Until that money is unfrozen, we cannot start with the water and sewer lines, which are the first part of the project. We feel positive those funds will be forthcoming, but we don't know when," Hudspeth said.
Last month, after a series of articles in the (Raleigh) News and Observer that were critical of the NC Rural Economic Development Center, legislators in Raleigh voted to freeze the agency's funding by removing it from the state's new budget. Gov. Pat McCrory also called for the removal of the organization's leadership.
During the governor's visit to Boone in July, he promised that rural counties would still receive state support, but not through the Rural Center.
The Rural Center, established in 1987 and based in Raleigh, works to aid the state's 85 rural counties through advocacy, research, grants and leadership development.
ARHS's Rural Center grant, to be used for sewer and water infrastructure on the Blowing Rock health care facility project, accounts for more than a third of its estimated cost of $1.5 million.
The project has already received grants and contributions for the project from the Golden Leaf Foundation ($100,000) and the town of Blowing Rock ($58,549) and has grant applications in process to the EDA for $426,000 and the Appalachian Regional Commission for $300,000.
The road and bridge project for the new health care facility costs $2,833,330 and is being paid for by an Appalachian Regional Commission grant of $2,583,330, plus a $250,000 contribution from the NCDOT.
"The entire project, including construction of the new hospital, will cost $20 million. Our fundraising goal is $10 million and we will fund the other $10 million through financing. So far, we have gift commitments of $6 million, so we've got $4 million to go," Hudspeth said.
Last week, the project received a $500,000 gift from the Broyhill Family Foundation as a naming opportunity for the new facility's Palliative Care Neighborhood.
According to Hudspeth's report, 110 full-time jobs will be transferred from the current Blowing Rock Hospital to the new health care facility, tentatively named Chestnut Ridge at Blowing Rock. Fifty-nine new full-time jobs will be added when the new facility opens. There will also be 10 to 20 new positions at a retail pharmacy and 10 to 20 new positions at a primary care clinic at the facility.
ARHS is hoping to partner with a retirement home company to be built on land it purchased two years ago. The new health care facility and the retirement home would be next to each other and share resources.
"We foresee a retirement community adding 100-plus jobs, a special medical practices facility adding 50-plus jobs and ancillary services adding 50-plus jobs," Hudspeth said.
Speaking about the frozen N.C. Rural Center grant, Hudspeth said, "Reach out to your regional politicians and let them know how important this project is."
U.S. 321 update
"Everybody knows that the original low-bid contractor, which was Taylor and Murphy, had some financial difficulties and had to release the (321 widening) project to the bonding company. The bonding company, which was Travelers, picked Maymead as the new contractor," Eller said.
"You may not see a lot of Maymead vehicles out here. You may see more Vecellio and Grogan vehicles. Vecellio and Grogan are subcontracted to do most of the grading, retaining wall construction and that sort of work."
According to Eller, because of delays caused by the change in contractors, the new completion date for the U.S. 321 widening project in Blowing Rock is June 30, 2016.
"The project was broken up into what we call Area 1 and Area 2, Area 1 being the business district of Blowing Rock," Eller said. "It has a much earlier completion date. The new completion date for Area 1 is April 26, 2015. It's about a year earlier than Area 2."
Eller said that the entire widening project is estimated to be 20 percent to 25 percent complete at this time.
"It took a while for Vecellio and Grogan to get their equipment here, their personnel here and to ramp back up the construction," Eller said. "But we've reached the point where there's a lot of activity going on and there's some definite progress being made.
"To this date, we've moved 146,000 cubic yards of material. We have placed on the southern portion of the job over 184,000 tons of material, building those fields back up. We've placed more than 850 feet of storm drainpipe. We've installed over 2,800 feet of water line. We've installed over 2,800 feet of new sewer line. Those are the types of big ticket items that we like to see taking place," he said. Eller said that the project included about 40 new retaining walls.
"You can see those starting to take form," he said. "At three of those walls down near the Food Lion, you'll see the first section of the form-liner portion, which puts the imprint of the rock on the wall. The first section of that was poured last week. The imprint looks very nice, I think."
Eller said that when the project is completed, a sidewalk will run by the side of the road from the Green Park Inn to Main Street in Blowing Rock. The sidewalk will be at road level.
When asked if the heavy rains this summer have pushed the completion date of the project back even further, Eller said, "The rain has really wreaked havoc with us this year. But the contractors have the ability to ramp up when times get pinched."
According to Eller, Chris Beyers, who was project manager of the widening when Taylor and Murphy was the contractor, has stayed on the project and is now working with Maymead.
"To be able to keep him on has helped tremendously," Eller said. "And we have multiple subcontractors, a majority of them, who have stayed on. A lot of positives have happened in the transition."