It's been more than a year since plans to renovate the second floor of the Washington County Courthouse were approved, and about six months since work was halted to review how construction would go forward. (Lee Talbert/Johnson City Press)
It’s been more than a year since plans to renovate Washington County Courthouse’s second floor originally were approved, and about six months since work was halted to review and debate and re-review how construction would go forward.
The County Commission’s Budget Committee on Wednesday unanimously approved keeping those plans on paper for a little while longer.
The County Owned Property Committee’s recommendation to proceed with Hiram Rash of Kingsport’s GRC Construction Management at the helm did not pass the Budget Committee’s sniff test, mainly due to the increase in the project’s cost and the fact that the plans, specifications and scope of work have pretty much remained the same.
“We’re being asked to change the project halfway through it,” said County Mayor Dan Eldridge. “The original estimated cost was $220,000. We’ve already spent all but $40,000 of that, which was carried over from last fiscal year. The County Owned Property Committee is asking that the county come up with an additional $110,000 to complete the project, meaning we will have gone from a $220,000 project to a $330,000 project.”
Budget Committee members agreed to recess Wednesday’s meeting and reconvene on Jan. 22 with members of the COP committee and GRC representatives on hand to take a closer look at projected costs.
“I just don’t have enough information to make a $110,000 decision right now,” said Budget Committee member Joe Grandy.
The sticking points not only include a move from inmate labor to subcontracted labor, which obviously will cost more, but also the nearly $27,000 that would be paid to the general contractor for a construction management fee, project manager fee and “general requirements.”
One example of committee members’ concerns is that the county already has spent $6,000 for job oversight to this point. Rash would get an additional $6,500 to perform that function for the remainder of the project, according to the new projections.
GRC already has a trailer on site, where all permits and licenses will be kept — an item the COP committee has had concerns about for some time.
“Mr. Rash’s professionalism is what we’re buying here,” said Phyllis Corso, COP committee chairwoman. “We really have to do this right, and we need licensed and insured people to do the labor. The County Owned Property Committee is going to do it right, and there’s no real good excuse for not having it done.”
Corso said she and the committee still are trying to figure out what has been ordered and what has not — what has been paid for and what has not.
“It’s been like pulling teeth,” she said.
Willie Shrewsbury, the county’s purchasing agent, said the project is ready to go and most materials needed to complete the job already have been ordered and paid for.
Construction began near the first part of last year, but the job was temporarily shut down in June when it was found the State Fire Marshal’s Office had not received construction plans from local architect Fred Ward. Construction on a renovated commission chambers and other improvements resumed about a week later with the state’s blessing.
“It’s been on hold for some time,” Shrewsbury said. “Mr. Rash reviewed the project and came back with cost estimates. The original intent was based on using a lot of inmate labor. Going forward, that won’t be the case.
Meanwhile, the courthouse’s third-floor renovations are complete and skilled laborers from among the inmate population performed most of the work.
“Yes, this is a lot of money,” said Greg Matherly, commission chairman. “I agree that inmate labor is a great resource. Have you seen the third floor? It looks great.”