Renovation work on the old Washington County Courthouse in Jonesborough has stopped. (Dave Boyd/Johnson City Press)
Work on long-awaited renovations at the Washington County Courthouse was shut down weeks ago when it was found the State Fire Marshal’s Office had not received construction plans from local architect Fred Ward.
“For whatever reason the plans had not been submitted,” County Mayor Dan Eldridge said Monday. “But we found out about it and actually stopped work. We did submit an initial plan review in early May. Then on May 21, the state office sent us back a list of three concerns that we need to address.”
A copy of the state’s Department of Commerce and Insurance plan review shows Deputy Fire Marshal Frank Harris received the plans for the courthouse’s second-floor renovations May 20 and reviewed them May 21.
“Starting construction before plans approval may be considered as a just cause, by the state, to issue a stop-work order. It will also compromise, if not prevent, the issuance of a Certificate of Occupancy upon completion of the project,” Harris wrote.
Construction began near the start of this year.
The concerns marked in a checklist include making sure there are fire prevention features in the construction of the platform on which commissioners will sit, as well as confirmation of any fire sprinkler configuration changes, according to the plan review.
Meanwhile, state inspector Rick Talley last week determined during an on-site inspection that Washington County had not completed the plan review and approval process prior to beginning construction near the first of the year. Talley asked Eldridge for a “Voluntary Stop Work Order,” until all issues were resolved, and Eldridge agreed.
“That’s correct,” he said. “But we stopped work there weeks ago, and we’re working out the issues. For some reason there was miscommunication with Fred Ward and (county purchasing agent) Willie Shrewsbury.
Commissioner and County Owned Property Committee Chairman Mark Ferguson accompanied Talley during last week’s tour.
“(Eldridge) got that letter on May 21, and he didn’t even tell anybody,” Ferguson said. “I got a phone call asking me if the mayor had given me any information. I asked County Attorney John Rambo to interpret it for me, but he said he hadn’t seen it. Mr. Talley determined that Washington County had not completed the plan review and approval process prior to beginning construction. No approved plans were on site.”
For now, courthouse renovation cost estimates are still hovering around $250,000. The courthouse was last renovated in 1986, but the work will provide the County Commission with new chambers. The county plans to save money by using use inmate labor, and some of the materials and labor will be outsourced to the state, meaning the county will go through the state for furnishings, carpet, blinds and other materials.
The large front doors at the main entrance will be replaced, and a key card swipe to access the second floor at the stairwell will be installed.
The second and third floors both will get new carpeting and vinyl cove bases, and the entire second floor will get a new HVAC system, acoustical ceilings, plumbing and electrical, blinds and doors and frames. In addition to these changes, the courthouse’s exterior will undergo lead abatement and get a fresh coat of paint.
Eldridge has reported to commissioners that the architect’s estimate for painting was about $40,000. But the county received only one bid, which came in at a surprising $150,000. The mayor said Shrewsbury is looking into other alternatives.