By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: January 23, 2019 | 1:45 p.m.
DINWIDDIE – Last Thursday afternoon, it was hard not to notice the buzz that radiated from the Dinwiddie County government complex as dozens of people gathered for a historic moment in the county’s history – the opening of government’s new home.
Even though the new Dinwiddie County Government Center has been open since the waning days of 2018, officials in the county have expressed openly that they wanted to have a special event to herald the building’s completion and opening that allows the community to be part of the celebration, with last Thursday being the culmination of that effort.
Inside the new county boardroom, it was standing room only with overflow seating in a neighboring community room Dinwiddie’s seated board, department heads, community leaders and others all gathered to formally dedicate a building that has been nearly a half-decade in the making and part of an ongoing effort to modernize county facilities.
“Over the past 20 years, Dinwiddie County has been busy with facilities,” Board Chairman William Chavis said during his remarks, listing off some of the construction achievements the county has had, including the Dinwiddie County Courthouse, mere steps away from the new center, two new schools, the nationally recognized Dinwiddie Sports Complex, new manned waste sites, along with the recently completed Ragsdale Community Center in McKenney, and Dinwiddie Public Safety Building.
With that, the theme of the afternoon was reiterated through each speaker at last Thursday’s event, thanks and gratitude to the community, the citizens of Dinwiddie County for making this and other projects possible.
“All of you have made it possible for us to be here today,” Chavis commented. “We have accomplished these great things together and today is our day.”
The Dinwiddie County Government Center represents one stage of a four-stage project that serves to transform the Village of Dinwiddie into a true governmental center for the county, bringing together almost all county services under one roof and at one complex.
Before Thursday’s event, well before any ground was broken or drawings were stood up on easels for all to see, the conversation about the county and the future of its facilities were had seven years ago when the currently seated board took office.
“We had a health department building that was in bad shape and had to be moved into a temporary trailer site and their building was eventually condemned,” Chavis shared. “We also had a department of social services whose building was ranked last among DSS facilities statewide. Something had to be done and, believe me, we tossed around a lot of ideas.”
IN PICTURES: Dinwiddie County Celebrates Opening of Government Center
For Chavis, some of the ideas were seen as bandages to the true problem, instead of addressing the need at its core, such as an idea that would’ve seen an addition built on the Pamplin Administration Building to house the county health department and social services.
“The health department couldn’t be sustained in trailers, and DSS needed a new home,” he said. The Dinwiddie Sheriff’s Office was beyond renovation and repairs. Our fire, EMS, and emergency communications were in desperate need of additional space. The Pamplin building needed major renovations and was no longer adequate for our growing workforce.”
Following a space needs assessment, the concept that has been brought to reality was born – a new state-of-the-art public safety building to house the sheriff’s office, fire and EMS, and emergency communications, a new facility solely for the county’s information technology department, renovating the Pamplin building to become the new home of the county school division, and the construction of a building that will house a vast majority of county offices and departments under the same roof for the first time in county history.
While the needs were real and present, officials with the county stressed the need for patience if the county were to complete this effort within the constraints of not impacting the tax rate.
Members of Dinwiddie’s Public Safety community were also in attendance for last week’s dedication, nearly six months after they moved into their new home at the Public Safety Building just a short walk away from the new Government Center. (Michael Campbell)
As interest rates fell and debt came off the books in the county through the midpoint of the decade, the opportunity presented itself where the county could finance the project over 15 years at a mere two-percent interest rate, missing the historic lows by two weeks, according to county officials.
“With the opening of this new center, we are well on our way to accomplishing our goal, which was creating a more efficient and more responsive municipal complex for all of our citizens,” Dinwiddie County Administrator Kevin Massengill shared.
He continued, “Good things come to those who wait. And that was very true in our case. In 2017, we borrowed the $25 million and we just missed those lows. We could tell we were beginning to be blessed and that these things were outside of our control but waiting seemed to work.”
The new building marks the return of both the health department and social services to the county complex, both in new spaces built for today’s needs and tomorrow’s growth, something state social services commissioner Duke Storen praised the county for during his remarks.
“We have a great space here and I think Dinwiddie’s day to celebrate this beautiful space here is just a reflection of your commitment to the most important work of the most important mission that any of us can have, to help people fulfill their dreams and live a life of dignity,” he said.
“In the social services space, we talk about triumphing over poverty and that is not about making it a little better,” Storen continued, “it is about winning and being victorious. When I think back, Dinwiddie County Social Services wasn’t always the poster child for the other 120 social services around the Commonwealth. But today, when I think of what we are celebrating, to me, it is the commitment of the county, the leadership, and the people to the mission. This is an outward sign of great service and value to Dinwiddie County.”
Dinwiddie Social Services Director Rose Mastracco stands with state commissioner S. Duke Storen outside the county’s new social services department. Storen called Dinwiddie’s new social services ‘a shining star’ of facilities in the Commonwealth and praised the local staff. (Michael Campbell)
“Those who come to social services deserve to come to a facility where it is both welcoming and they are treated with dignity and respect,” he said. “That is about values more than anything and I am happy to say Dinwiddie County is one of our shining stars now in the Commonwealth. If you don’t know your local social services workers, get to know them. They are a great group of dedicated people doing the hardest work that there is to do and they are treating people with dignity and respect every day.”
After those words, the community gathered around the wide staircase that links the two stories of the new government center where a ceremonial ribbon was cut by Chavis as supervisors and community and county leaders smiled on, with tours and an open house held soon after.
Among those walking through the building was Willie Canady who held a unique connection with the building, being a Dinwiddie resident who worked on the building from when it was just steel frames and metalwork to the finished product the community is now enjoying. He said there is something special about working on a project of this scale that will have countywide impacts.
“It feels good to be part of this,” he said. “This is a beautiful building that is full of smart people who are aggressive and go and get the job done.”
“When they are tasked with something here, they get it done and that is a very good thing,” Canady continued.
With the commotion ended and things slowly returned to normal at the government center last week, Massengill was moved by the turnout and response from the community to the new facility.
County leaders and the Dinwiddie Board of Supervisors flank both sides of the new Dinwiddie County Government Center staircase as Chairman William Chavis cut the ribbon to formally dedicate and open the building for business last week. (Michael Campbell)
“For me personally, it was extremely rewarding to see people that you know that you are working for and working with to see what we have been working toward from the beginning and knowing in some small way we are trying to make the community a better place overall,” Massengill said, adding the feedback was positive from the dozens in attendance.
“I didn’t have one negative comment,” he said. “I heard a lot about the architecture and the location of certain services. They love the office decor.”
Massengill continued, “All of this has culminated in a sense of community pride and we really felt like this building is representative of something they are proud of seeing in Dinwiddie County.”
With the government center open, work on the Pamplin Administration Building to transform it into the expanded school division and registrar’s office is already underway.
That project is expected to be done in the spring of this year, bringing the entire government complex project to completion.