‘Stuck in a quagmire,’ officials advised on renovations to OR Court

During the Anderson County Commission meeting this month, Commission was apprised by County Law Director Jay Yeager and County Finance Director Natalie Erb of the most recent updates involving the renovations that are being done to the former Daniel Arthur Building on Emory Road, the site where the county plans to move the General Sessions Div. II Court once renovation work is completed.

Renovations to the building began in September and are expected to be finished by early next year, officials said.

In May, Commission approved awarding the bid for courthouse renovations to Preen Construction LLC, a Knoxville-based firm, that submitted the lowest bid at about $530,000. County officials indicated the $530,000 price tag on the project was still expensive. Officials sought to negotiate with the bidder to find ways to trim some of the costs, and were successful in their attempt, saving the county about $30,000 to $60,000.

Commission learned during the budget report the costs the county has spent to date on renovations to the building, and discussed some of the changes going forward with the project.

Commission approved an appropriation of $30,390 to go towards building improvements to the DARC building. The improvements were listed in the budget amendment summary as “change orders” that included a judges’ platform wall totalling $1, 875; fire alarm equipment costing $1,667; concrete floor and crawl space work totalling $13, 489; installation of a roll-up window valued at $3,949; installation of casework under the roll-up window totalling $3,529; costs associated with removing tile ceiling and reconfiguring bathrooms estimated at $2,280; and the removal and replacement of a 400 AMP service electrical panel valued to cost $3,601.

“How much money did we set aside to do this project--to move the court from its current location to the new location where we’re stuck in a quagmire of being reconstructed?” asked Dist. 1 Commissioner Tracy Wandell.

Finance Director Natalie Erb responded that $500,000 was set aside for the renovations to the DARC building out of a $1.4 million capital outlay note county officials agreed to take on earlier this year to go towards funding the work on the DARC building and $600,000 to purchase a new Senior Center in Clinton.

The remaining $300,000 would be allocated for funding projects such as roofing and air conditioning repairs.

Some of the challenges county officials have faced so far during the renovation process have been the identification early on of asbestos flooring in part of the building, the need to replace an HVAC unit that is estimated to cost about $80,000, and unnecessary change orders that have driven up the costs of renovations.

Erb informed Commissioners that the county’s IT director recently determined there is a need for wiring the computer network in the DARC building, with county’s finance department putting in an additional appropriation of around $12,000 to get the IT and wiring in place.

The cost to wire the network is not estimated to end up costing anywhere near $12,000, Erb said. She explained to Commissioners that the $12,000 appropriation is being funded through fund 171 - a fund she said was a tax levy revenue fund.

Erb further explained that of the $300,000 of the $1.4 million capital outlay that is intended to be used for other capital notes, the county has already earmarked $232,150 to cover repairing the roof on the Jolley building, $13,000 for a security wall, and about $69,000 for a chiller.

This leaves the county with $67,000 of the $300,000 that has not been committed to any projects, and could be used to go towards DARC renovations if county officials decide to do that, Erb said.

“Who’s going to manage this project and make sure the funds we allocated to get this work done is being done in a systematic process?” asked Wandell.

Currently, the county does not have a project manager hired to keep track of the progress on the project and ensure the work that needs to gets done gets done in a timely manner.

“I feel like we’ve spent some funds we should not have spent,” continued Wandell, “I will not vote for another nickel to be spent until I know what we’re buying.”

Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank stated to Commission that she was not very familiarized with the details of the project, and said she was not included on the emails from the county officials who have been more involved with the project.

Frank suggested Commission hire a project manager experienced in construction to work with the county on the project moving forward and report to them on updates.

Said Frank, “I think there are larger issues with this building. I don’t know what we do now. We’re already in the middle of construction, so do you swallow it and continue to move forward and try to make the best of it? We just purchased a senior center that has a lot of the very same concerns.”

She advised Commissioners to look at the project “in totality” and think about what plans officials have for the building long-term.

Anderson County Law Director Jay Yeager spoke with Commissioners next, and explained it was his office who somehow got stuck with managing the project, and they do not have the expertise to manage it effectively. In his discussions with the building’s contractor, Yeager said the contractor told him the building is “structurally sound.”

“It’s built like a tank,” he said. Asked by Wandell what are the county’s options if officials agreed to exit the contract, re-evaluate it, or put it on hold, Yeager replied that there is a standard provision stated in the contract that reads that the owner, which would be the county in this case, can terminate the contract “for convenience with notice,” but that the problem is, there is also a component in the contract that stipulates the contractor is entitled to the goods and services performed at that time, and a stipulation that states the contractor is also entitled to net profits.