Jerry’s Gospel on two contrasting public works

They should put huge, bright-colored condoms on all those phallic symbols standing in front of the Buncombe County Courthouse on the old City/County Plaza to remind the public what the Pack Square Conservancy has done to the community. This $8-million project to turn a park into a park has already cost $16 million in public and private dollars, and who knows how much the merchants in the surrounding area have suffered in lost business and revenue.

Now these same folks are looking to drain our already depleted local-area charitable pool and limited taxpayer dollars to siphon off another $4 million to build a pavilion.

Hello! We have a Civic Center and a Reid Center that are both in a terrible state of decline, and for lack of facility space, our charitable shelters and social services are turning away people impacted by the recession.

This project is a monument to poor planning, poor engineering, and poor financial management; and it demonstrates a woeful lack of knowledge and sophistication for building a project like this. To make matters worse, project leaders found it necessary to go outside the area to find contractors and labor to take our money.

We're going to have a new computer-driven fountain to replace the wonderful old fountain that adorned the square for so many decades. The new one will be all bright and shiny, and people can play in it. Does the health department know this, and will they inspect it to make sure we put chlorine in the water? Will there be a lifeguard? Rumor has it that this fountain is already leaking.

You can bet that the first time that computer goes out and there is a $5,000 repair bill, they will go back to a plain old water pump that costs about $100.

That is kind of like taking down the leaning tower of Pisa and putting up a new shiny stainless steel obelisk on an angle.

I think the pricey underground wiring is a nice touch that makes electrical outlets available to vendors. Now those street people sleeping in the park will not be kept awake by those noisy old generators. As a matter of fact, when the park is not in use for the handful of events that will occur there, why couldn't we make it a tent city and let the homeless plug in a heater, a microwave and maybe even a television?

It seems to me that it is time to stop pounding mud down this rat hole and squandering our precious resources. Just open the park again, declare victory and retire from the field.

In Contrast

I'm not bashful about criticizing the city when I think they have done something wrong, so I think it's only fair to give credit when city employees have gone above and beyond to provide a benefit to we the taxpayers: It was an early goal of our present city manager, Gary Jackson, to consolidate all of the inspection and permitting offices into a one-stop center to expedite the process of getting approval for building projects.

It makes no difference if one is a major contractor, developer, or a homeowner just attempting to do a simple remodeling project — the process is daunting. The water department is in one place, the sewer department in another place, and the electrical inspector is somewhere else. There are so many federal, state and municipal codes — along with Asheville's Unified Development Ordinance and other various requirements — to be followed that compliance becomes extremely complicated and frustrating even for the most sophisticated applicant.

Many of the laws and rules are so vague, arbitrary and ambiguous that it can cause honest differences of opinion and conflicts of interpretation between inspectors from different departments. Quite often, resolving these conflicts requires face-to-face meetings between different departments. But arranging these resolution conferences has been nearly impossible and very time-consuming for all involved, especially when the various offices are scattered throughout the city.

To consolidate all these services, staff considered Innsbruck Mall as the most promising location. However, facing serious budget constraints, Manager Jackson challenged Assistant City Manager Jeff Richardson and Public Safety Director Robert Griffin to find a cheaper solution. Being the resourceful can-do guys they are, they hit upon the brilliant idea of remodeling the way-too-spacious Public Works building on Valley Street into a 11,000-square-foot one-stop center. But they took bids on the remodel and decided that the number quoted was too expensive. So they then enlisted the help of the city inspectors themselves, most of whom are tradesmen, such as carpenters, electricians, plumbers and mechanical folks, along with other staff, who all pitched in on the remodel and made this happen.

These men and women did a yeoman's job, and this office will serve as a model for the many contractors they serve.

They even replaced all the old-style lighting with new energy-saving lighting, which will pay for itself in a relatively short time.

They were aided and abetted by the good people at Office Environment, who made available some very-high-quality furniture, partitions and carpet at distress prices, saving substantial sums of additional cost.

This energetic and cooperative group of city employees came in $20,000 under their proposed budget and, overall, saved the taxpayers some $300,000.

This new development-service center will save builders, developers and homeowners millions of dollars, and it will promote smart development and affordable housing.

Let's give these dedicated public servants a tip of the hard hat.

[Jerry Sternberg has been active on the local scene for many years. He can be reached at]


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