By County Manager, Chris Coudriet
Growth and progress are important for any community, and that is certainly the case here in New Hanover County. Our population has increased more than 88 percent in the past 30 years according to Census data, and that will continue increasing in the years to come. With that comes the need for new or increased services, modernized facilities to meet the demands of customers, and initiatives to ensure equal access to resources and safety of the community. All of that is paramount as we consider capital projects for the county and determine future plans and needs.
There are several important capital projects underway now to serve the community in new and better ways. We just recently dedicated our new Government Center (with a grand opening to come in early 2023) and The Healing Place treatment facility will be dedicated and completed soon as well. The infrastructure work for the county’s Blue Clay Business Park is underway, and there are additional projects on the horizon for 2023 – like the design for the Northchase Library and construction of two new fire stations on Gordon Road and in Castle Hayne.
At the forefront of these projects is Facilities Project Manager Kevin Caison who is a tremendous asset to our county team. He is involved in every aspect of these capital projects from project scope and design, all the way to final construction and move in. So for this month’s public service profile, I asked Kevin about his role and the efforts of the county in this new economic and construction market we are in. That conversation is below…
Tell us about how you came to work at the county and what a day-in-the-life as our Facilities Project Manager looks like.
I have been involved in the construction industry for more than 40 years, working in multiple trades along the way and ultimately owning my own construction business. I came to work with the county in 2008 as a building inspector and learned so much, quickly gaining the certifications needed to become a plans examiner with the county. When, in 2014, my current position as facilities project manager became available, I was lucky enough to be selected. I quickly hit the ground running with more than 10 projects in progress at the time and things have never slowed down for us in the Project Management division of Facilities Management. With the assistance of our Project Coordinator Matt Winkel, we have completed more than 125 projects since April 2014, and we currently have 15 projects in progress with five in construction and the other 10 in various stages of design and permitting. The typical day for us includes many meetings with architects, engineers, contractors, and end user groups. We also conduct field observation reports, status updates, review and negotiate proposals, write RFPs and RFQs, and address project issues as they arise.
What has been the most rewarding or interesting project you have worked on so far?
That’s a tough question to answer because we have had so many great projects. One of the best things about my job is getting to know the end user group during a project and learning about their function in the community and the complexities of their operations. If I had to choose one example, I would say the new Division of Juvenile Justice building downtown was extremely satisfying to see the totally dysfunctional facility replaced. In the beginning, the project was supposed to be a renovation of the existing building but we worked with the design team to successfully show that tearing down and replacing the building was the best option. The project from start to finish went extremely well and stayed within budget and on schedule, and is a really nice, efficient and functional building for our juvenile court system.
How is the county incorporating energy efficiency initiatives into its facilities?
We always strive to make sure our buildings are designed beyond code requirements and are sustainable with materials that will last and are easy to maintain. Energy efficiency is part of the sustainable model that we strive to achieve. During the design phase we engage with Duke Energy, utilizing their Smart Saver Program. We select options with 5 year or less payback and reduction in demand and consumption by 30 percent. We have participated in Duke Energy’s Smart Saver program for every capital project since Pine Valley Library in 2019, and, working with engineers and architects, we analyze the energy efficiency of the projects starting in the early design phase through construction. For this goal, the payback time is based on the cost to the county for the additional energy efficient strategies selected less the amount of incentive we receive from Duke through the program, compared with the annual energy cost savings for the building. And for demand and consumption, we measure annual electric demand savings, electric consumption savings, and gas consumption savings for each new building since 2019.
With current supply and cost disruptions, what are some of the ways the county is managing through that?
Based on the situation, we have had to look at alternative materials at times because the specified material may not be available. This has come into play on all our projects currently under construction. We have also pre-ordered equipment when feasible to avoid delays during construction. The delays in the supply chain and the labor shortages have made it extremely difficult to keep complex projects on schedule. We have successfully kept smaller projects on schedule, but the costs have nearly doubled compared to two years ago.
Of all the current projects underway or upcoming, what excites you the most and why?
Another tough question because I thoroughly enjoy all the projects. The new Government Center and The Healing Place are both nearing completion and both have been exciting and challenging to work on. Seeing them completely finished will be really gratifying, and we will dedicate those two facilities this month with move-in and operations expected in early 2023.
All the county’s upcoming major projects are exciting in their own way, but I am very excited about the new Vice and Detectives Facility that is close to design completion. This project is a 23,000 square foot modular building being built on a site with challenging soil conditions. The type of construction is much different than we typically use and has required a much different approach. I was skeptical about using a modular building but am now excited that this could be a great way to cope with the current supply chain and labor shortages and create an innovative path forward for certain facilities.
As you can tell, there is a lot of progress happening in New Hanover County and I appreciate Kevin’s incredible work and that of our entire team, who are helping to lead this continued progress. I look forward to the upcoming dedications, groundbreakings, and grand openings of these new facilities and projects that will create purpose-driven spaces and opportunities to meet the needs of our growing community.