Improvements will soon begin at Bethlehem Park as the Alexander County Board of Commissioners approved bids at the February 5th meeting for the highly-anticipated parks and recreation project.
County Manager Shane Fox said the total project cost is $2,355,000, which includes $1,295,000 for construction (Lail Builders, Inc.), $510,000 for lighting (Camp Electric), $280,000 for a new playground (Carolina Parks and Play), and $270,000 for engineering (West Consultants) and contingency. He said the project will be funded by $750,000 of state-appropriated money and $1,605,000 of article 44 sales tax money, with no local general fund tax dollars used.
Board Chairman Josh Lail said he is excited about the park project and its benefits to the community.
“These improvements and additions will allow Bethlehem Park to better serve the entire county and citizens of all ages,” Lail said. “It’s an exciting time as we begin this much-needed parks and recreation project that will improve the quality of life here in Alexander County, at no cost to our taxpayers.”
County Manager Fox said the project will include a new restroom/concession/picnic building, a new playground, resurfacing of two tennis courts, conversion of two tennis courts to eight pickleball courts, two half-court basketball play areas, new lighting with steel poles and LED lights, conversion of the large baseball field to a soccer field, new baseball/softball batting cages, new ADA sidewalks and entry, parking lot resurfacing, drainage improvements, and more.
The current building at Bethlehem Park is 36×24 feet, while the new structure will be 96×30 feet with double the number of restrooms, two dining areas, a new kitchen area, two serving windows, and picnic areas on both sides.
The new playground will replace the existing play area, with areas for ages 0-5 and ages 5-12, including swings, slides, sensory areas, nature features, and more. The playground will have a 20-year warranty.
Bethlehem Park, which is approximately 13 acres, has been operated by Alexander County since the 1970s. The last major update was done on the shelter and playground in the 1990s.
The park will be closed to the public during construction, which is scheduled to begin this spring. The project should take 240 days to complete.
In other business:
• Commissioners approved bids for the Alexander Industrial Park Sewer Extension Project. The project consists of 2,400 linear feet of 8-inch gravity sewer line on a 16-acre graded site, with a 270-day construction period. The total project cost is $452,330, with $365,727 for construction (Chad Sigmon Construction), $56,603 for engineering (West Consultants) and contingency, and $30,000 for Western Piedmont Council of Governments services. The project will be funded by a $226,165 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission and a $226,165 grant from the NC Department of Environmental Quality, with no local tax dollars being used. County Manager Fox said the sewer project will enhance the marketability of the industrial park site.
• Commissioners heard an Emergency Medical Services (EMS) update from EMS Director Jeff Sigmon, Major Kevin Richards, and PORT/Community Paramedic Shannon Childers.
Sigmon said that EMS responded to 8,206 calls in 2023 compared to 7,572 in 2022. The average total call time is 56:11 from the time an ambulance and crew are dispatched until they are back in service. The average response time for 2023 was 7:09, which is below the national average of 8:00. The top five calls for 2023 were falls, sickness, breathing problem, traffic accident, or unconsciousness. EMS currently has 51 full-time and 25 part-time employees, who accumulated 2,220 hours of training in 2023.
“EMS staff must treat medical emergencies from birth to old age, which requires a tremendous skill set,” Sigmon said. “I would like to thank our EMS employees for their dedication, hard work, and excellent care that they provide to the citizens of Alexander County.”
Richards reported that Alexander County EMS will begin administering whole blood through a partnership with Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist and Wilkes Medical Center. The Wilkes blood bank will receive the blood/blood products from Wake Forest Baptist and will refrigerate them until Alexander County EMS picks them up. Unused units will be returned on a regular schedule. Richards said the availability of whole blood in an ambulance will increase survivability rates for EMS patients. Alexander County will be one of the few counties in North Carolina in which EMS has an available blood supply.
Childers provided an update on the Post-Overdose Response Team (PORT)/Community Paramedic program. Overdoses and associated deaths have increased, with 88 overdoses and 2 deaths in 2021, 94 overdoses and 2 deaths in 2022, and 152 overdoses and 14 deaths in 2023. Since the program’s inception in October 2023, Narcan has been administered to overdose patients 67 times, with a success rate of 93 percent. Unknown pills account for 29 percent of cases, followed by fentanyl at 12 percent, and unknown opioids at 9 percent. PORT works with EMS, social services, the sheriff’s office, the health department, the school system, and others in the referral process. Childers then makes contact with the patient, conducts an intake interview, and helps them follow the R.E.C.O.V.E.R.Y. road map (Recognize, Educate, Connect, Overcome, Volunteer, Encourage, Recover, and Yield). The 2024 outlook includes peer support, an additional PORT/Community Paramedic position to have a 24/7 rotation, education outreach, and harm reduction efforts.
• Pamela Bowman, Alexander Soil & Water Conservation District Director, provided an update on the Streamflow Rehabilitation Assistance Program (StRAP) and a request for additional funding in round two of the program.
Following the effects of Tropical Storm Eta, Alexander County received $384,805 in StRAP funding in May 2022. Almost 18,500 linear feet of stream debris on five sites was removed utilizing the grant funds. There are still 28 sites on the list, with an estimated total cost of $1,123,000 for stream debris removal. Bowman said there is a second round of grant funding, with no local match required. Applications are due February 23, with an announcement in May or June. She will report back to the board at that time.
• The board approved two budget amendments to account for the purchase of sheriff’s vehicles, additional revenues received by the library and cooperative extension, and transfer of funds for the Bethlehem Park project. A project budget ordinance was approved to account for state-appropriated funds for a community grants expense of $300,000 and a capital outlay of $750,000 for an EMS building.
• Commissioners approved a resolution opposing the NC Rate Bureau’s proposal to increase Alexander County homeowners’ insurance by 41.3 percent. Commissioner Ronnie Reese said he also contacted NC Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey about the proposed rate increase, and noted that Mr. Causey is not in favor of the increases.
• In the County Manager’s Report, Mr. Fox said that he and staff did a walk-through with Duke Energy staff at the Wittenburg Access Area. The new beach access and associated amenities will open on Memorial Day weekend.
County Manager Fox met with a group of pickleball enthusiasts about expanding the sport in Alexander County. Jaycee Park is being considered for temporary pickleball courts.
The Bowman Court sewer project only received two bids, so the project will be rebid with a bid opening on February 13. Bid information will be presented to the board at the March 4th meeting.
Bids are being solicited for engineering services for the Sterling Road Community Development Block Grant project. The bid deadline is February 29.
The new fire training facility is nearing completion at the Taylorsville Lions Club Fairgrounds.
The next meeting of the Alexander County Board of Commissioners is set for Monday, March 4 at 6:00 p.m. at the CVCC Alexander Center for Education (room #103). Regular meetings are recorded and can be viewed on the county’s Government Channel on Spectrum channel 192 or the county’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/alexandercountync. Meeting agendas, minutes, videos, and more are available on the county’s website at https://alexandercountync.gov/commissioners.