Mount Airy officials approved a contract Thursday afternoon for preparatory work so statues of notable local residents can be installed downtown, amid budget concerns that might cause one to be eliminated from the plans.
The city Board of Commissioners voted to award the $31,500 contract to Colt W. Simmons Construction, LLC, to rehabilitate a site known as the “Whittling Wall” at the corner of West Oak and North Main streets.
After that facet is complete, plans call for the now-vacant location to become home next year to seven statues of people who have played key roles in this area’s unique musical, economic and cultural heritage.
A $94,340 downtown-revitalization grant awarded to Mount Airy by the N.C. Department of Commerce is funding the entire project, but officials expressed concern Thursday about how far those dollars might go when awarding the rehab contract.
In addition to the base contract price of $31,500 — the lowest of two bids received for the job — city officials included extra money to cover any contingencies, or unexpected costs that might arise from the project, for a total figure of $40,000.
However, City Manager Barbara Jones informed the commissioners and Mayor David Rowe that if the entire $40,000 is used, it could mean eliminating one of the seven statues in order to have the entire project completed within the $94,340 grant figure.
If the ultimate cost is $40,000, there is a possibility of a $4,200 shortfall, Jones said. “So we’re very hopeful that it’s going to stay within the $32,000 (range) and not $40,000.”
That prompted a series of questions from Mayor Rowe, who has experience with such issues due to being an official of a local construction company.
“What kind of contingencies would you expect to have on this (project)?” Rowe asked. “I don’t see where there would be any.”
City Public Works Director Jeff Boyles replied that whenever a rehabilitation project is involved, there are “unknowns.”
Thursday’s discussion indicated that City Engineer Mitch Williams, who is involved with the effort, also favors money being included for any unforeseen circumstances.
The city manager also pointed out that if contingencies do occur, having the extra funding included now would save time in the long run by not having to return to the board for a budget amendment. That could require waiting for its next meeting, she said.
After the discussion, the commissioners voted to authorize the full amount, and Boyles indicated that every effort would be made to contain the cost. “We try to treat the money like it’s our own,” the public works director said.
“I don’t think there should be any contingency, but I know how contractors are,” the mayor said at one point.
The project involving Colt W. Simmons Construction will include rehabilitating the existing concrete wall that was the foundation of the former Blue Ridge Hotel along West Oak Street. It became known as the Whittling Wall years ago for the practice of men gathering there to whittle, chew tobacco, swap pocketknives and trade stories.
The work now under contract will include only the re-facing of the wall with brick and Mount Airy granite, and not involve the statues — which will be a separate step later on in the process.
The statues are to be sculpted by a Reidsville artist, Brad Spencer, who specializes in brick sculpture, a medium dating to ancient Babylon hailed as a durable art form that blends in with other settings.
Individuals to be depicted include Grammy-winning country and pop singer Donna Fargo; Ralph Epperson, the founder of local radio station WPAQ; old-time fiddler Tommy Jarrell; Fred Cockerham, an old-time banjo player and fiddler; and Flip Rees, a longtime retailer in downtown Mount Airy. There will also be statues representing a mill worker and a whittler.
In other action Thursday, the city commissioners voted to appoint a new member to the Mount Airy Recycling Advisory Committee.
Paul Belk was approved for a three-year term that will expire on Oct. 31, 2019.
Belk is a retiree who had a 36-year career in retail management. He is a Charlotte native and has lived in Mount Airy since 1995.
He is replacing Jennifer Nester on the recycling group. Nester elected not to be reappointed.
The Mount Airy Recycling Advisory Committee was formed in 2012 in conjunction with the city government’s launching of a curbside recycling program.
Its functions include increasing public awareness of the curbside program, identifying possible grant opportunities for recycling efforts and making recycling policy recommendations to the commissioners.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.