Johnson City Commission OKs extra funding for Liberty Bell project, design work for Winged Deer Park

Zach Vance • Updated Mar 7, 2019 at 9:27 PM

Between August and December, the cost of the Liberty Bell Middle School gym and cafeteria project unexpectedly increased $2.17 million, prompting Johnson City officials to search for ways to reduce construction costs.

Working with the city’s construction consultant Tommy Burleson and school staff, Facilities Director Randy Trivette told city commissioners at Thursday’s meeting that $872,079 worth of “value engineering” reductions were identified, which still left a $1.3 million budget deficit. 

To make ends meet, all five commissioners voted to approve the issuance of a $4 million PEP bond to cover the balance of the Liberty Bell project. Of the remaining bond balance, $1.4 million will be used to resurface school parking lots and complete a roof replacement, while $1.3 million will fund the construction of a storage building and science laboratories at Indian Trail Middle School.

According to Trivette, the nearly 26 percent increase in construction costs is due to a rising demand for subcontractors in the region, specifically those who work on school projects. 

“There’s been about $250 million in the Tri-Cities area of school projects (and) educational projects that have been going on that have tied up a lot of subcontractors. Also a lot of material cost,” Trivette said. 

“Once we got (the construction) drawings to 100 percent complete, we sent them in to the state fire marshal’s office to have them reviewed and approved for construction. They came back, the contractor began locking in his subcontractors, his steel manufacturers and getting solid prices and bid prices. To the contractor’s dismay and to our dismay, the price was about $2 million above, in order to complete it as designed, than what was estimated back in the summertime.” 

Trivette said a lot of local subcontractors have been traveling out of town to work, where they can make more money.

“So if you could find somebody, they were going to get a premium price for that,” he said.  

Some of the “value engineering” reductions included replacing some of the porcelain tile with polished concrete, as well as eliminating two bleacher sections, the scoreboard and lockers. 

Commissioners approved a $8.35 million contract with BurWil Construction in September 2018 to do the Liberty Bell project. However, BurWil initially submitted a $9.8 million proposal in May 2018, which is closer to what the actual price ended up being. That $9.8 million proposal made it onto the commission’s May 17 agenda packet, but was removed at the last minute because City Manager Pete Peterson said he thought a lower price could be negotiated. 

Also approved Thursday night were two contracts to design diamond and rectangular ball fields at Winged Deer Park. 

CHA Design and Construction Solutions will receive $46,750 to draw up designs for developing city-owned lakefront property off Carroll Creek Road. That plan calls for building four soccer fields, a core building, an expanded parking lot, a walking trail and relocating volleyball courts. 

CHA Design and Construction Solutions was also selected to complete $59,750 worth of schematic designs for large diamond fields, a core building, maintenance facility, warm-up area, playground and expanded parking on 36 acres of property just west of Winged Deer Park. 

That land was acquired in September from Joe Wilson & Partners for $1.4 million. 

In other business, commissioners also voted unanimously to approve the final reading to rezone a 65,000-square-foot warehouse at 220 E. Millard St. from a B-3, or Supporting Central Business District, to an I-1, or Light Industrial District. 

The warehouse most recently housed BedInABox, but a few months ago, the company relocated to Mount Airy, North Carolina.

The warehouse’s owner, Bill Bradley, then began working with the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership, who identified an automobile heating components manufacturer as a possible tenant.

That company, who’s name has been kept secret from the public because of a non-disclosure agreement with NETREP, expressed interest in temporarily locating to East Millard Street while it searches for a permanent location, possibly at the Washington County Industrial Park. 

Without offering any type of commitment it will move there, the company first wanted commissioners to rezone the property to accomodate its assembly line. A final decision on whether the company will locate there was not mentioned during Thursday’s meeting, but Vice Mayor Joe Wise said after the meeting he thought the decision would come fairly soon.  



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