Stream, fill material on shelter site creates concerns

Gary B. Gray • Jul 8, 2013 at 9:18 PM

An engineers’ field report conducted in January 2012 shows the new Washington County-Johnson City Animal Shelter site contains an active stream that runs through the property in a buried culvert and that past grading has placed 20-year-old fill soil and rock from nearby road construction over the majority of the site at a depth of about 15 feet.

Kingsport’s Foundation Systems Engineering concluded, however, the site could be developed for its intended use. But the findings — filed with City Engineer Alan Cantrell more than 18 months ago — also mean site development could be costly.

On March 21, 2012, the Animal Control Board voted 3-2 to buy the vacant 6.6-acre lot at 3411 N. Roan St. for $500,000. Board members Pat Wolfe and David Tomita voted against the plan. Both men are Washington County commissioners. Tomita won a spot on the City Commission in April and remains a county commissioner.

“I had concerns that primarily were about taking that property off the tax rolls, not about engineering problems,” Wolfe said Monday. “I haven’t seen the engineer’s report. There are still a lot of unknowns. And sure, there might be some hidden costs. The architect has said at one of our meetings that the site plan could cost as much as $500,000, but I don’t see it as a nightmare.”

City Commissioner Clayton Stout, who recently coaxed commissioners into issuing $1.5 million in debt to help get the project going, said he’s not sure this report was ever presented to commissioners and that conditions were never discussed with him in depth.

“There was some discussion that there was a line going through the property,” he said. “But as far as an engineering report, I’m not sure that was presented to us. I also am not sure this was ever discussed with commissioners in depth.”

Tomita said he had not seen the report and was fairly confident city commissioners did not examine the findings before voting to commit $1.5 million.

Foundation Systems’ Engineer George Cross says an approximately 30-inch diameter culvert was placed underground to allow surface drainage to continue across the property from the properties situated above. Past grading has left fill soil and rock from a nearby road construction project over the majority of the site, and mapping indicates the depth of the fill soil extends to approximately 15 feet.

Though areas of greater fill depth “may require significant improvement for support of multiple stories or heavy structures, ... light, single-story structures could in our opinion be supported on improved (undercut) building pads or on a stiffened foundation system such as a reinforced slab on grade with thickened beam-type foundations,” according to Cross.

The report recommends “additional geotechnical evaluation once specific locations and structure types are determined” on a lot that has remained vacant for nearly a decade.

Meanwhile, architect Thomas Weems on Monday said he’s “a long way” from knowing what the site work will cost. For starters, the “structure types” have not been specified.

Weems said he is aware of the report and that he is trying to “stay away from some of those areas.”

“At this point the project is not far enough along to say what it will cost to deal with what we’ve got out there,” he said.

At the board’s August meeting — six months after the field report — members were informed that Weems, who was awarded an $87,500 contract to design the facility, would be getting to work on a rough draft that was expected to be ready in 60-90 days from that point.

But the dynamics changed, including funding methods, the formation of a fundraising committee and the hiring of a company to head a donor campaign. And while there has been occasional mention in public meetings that site prep could turn out to be costly, there also has been discussion about moving the new shelter further to the rear of the property and selling about an acre of frontage on North Roan.

Proceeds would help offset site development and construction costs, which is the board’s financial responsibility, not the city’s.

“I’m going to be interested to see what Tom (Weems) comes back with as far as costs,” Tomita said.

City Manager and board chair Pete Peterson is having the property appraised, something normally done prior to a sale.

He announced a few months ago that Washington County-Johnson City 911 Director Bob McNeill, who is looking to move out of a nearly 100-year-old building off Ashe Street in Johnson City, had inquired about the frontage. Peterson has said McNeill asked if the property could be given to 911, but Peterson has remarked several times that the land would be purchased, not “gifted.”

McNeill, who said he got a copy of the field report late last week, said he has been looking at several potential relocation sites.

“I’ve talked with the city and said we might be interested in it, but that 15-foot fill would be costly to fix,” he said. “We’ve not made any commitments, and there’s been no offer made for that property. Our board has not discussed it. I would hope they would let us have that property. I would love for them to gift it to us. It would save taxpayers money.”

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