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Caught by surprise … Jail expansion cost goes up by 55 percent

Posted on Sunday, November 12, 2017 at 8:52 am

Mackie Shanks, from left, architect, M. Shanks Architects,  Tim Little, owner/engineer, OLG Engineering, Dean Oliver, owner/engineer, OLG Engineering, Tom Smith, construction manager, Southeast Contractors and Matthew Bobo, construction manager, Southeast Contractors were the Franklin County Jail contracting and engineering personnel who witnessed the Finance Committee’s dialogue Thursday about potential subsequent steps to be taken after an announcement was made that the project’s cost will be more than initially planned.

–Staff Photo by Philip J. Lorenz III

STAFF WRITER

Philip J. Lorenz III

What was initially feared became fully realized late last week — the Franklin County Jail’s expansion is going to cost a lot more than planned.

Two special called county meetings, the first being the Finance Committee on Thursday morning at the Annex Building, brought a reaction of shock and awe.

This is when many of the members learned about an unexpected $5 million increase — from $9 million to $13.5 million —on the jail expansion project’s cost.

Another meeting is set for 6 p.m. Monday at the Courthouse to continue working to resolve the issue.

The reason  the two meetings were held last week was to bring the county government together to discuss and decide on the funding approach to four major projects in the county.

The county government’s goal is to combine all of the project’s costs into one bond, saving around $100,000 annually.

A bond is a debt investment in which an investor loans money to an entity — governmental in this case — which borrows the funds for a defined period of time at a variable or fixed interest rate.

These projects included the funding for the jail expansion plan, communications (Sherwood) tower, highway department equipment “wish list,” and a Solid Waste Authority equipment request that would lower overall costs.

During the Finance Committee special called meeting it became clear that the cost of the county jail expansion project has increased by nearly $5 million.

The reaction by government officials was surprise, dismay and a desire to know why this was necessary.

Once the Finance Committee members learned that the jail expansion project’s initial estimated cost had increased, the rest of the agenda was put on hold.

The second special called meeting, held Thursday evening at the Courthouse, brought the County Commission together to make a decision on the combined bond funding, but also to learn why the jail expansion project’s cost had increased by $5 million.

County Commission Board Chair Eddie Clark said even though no one wanted to deal with the extreme increase in the jail expansion process, they have no choice but to combine all of the projects under one bond issue.

First, he said the jail expansion project has to proceed or the state will decertify the facility and leave the county open to litigation and possible law suits.

However, Clark said now that the original jail bond has been paid off this will avoid a raise in the county’s taxes to fund the jail’s expansion.

Oliver Gipson Little Engineer Inc., which drew up the jail expansion plan, Tom Smith and Mathew Bobo, with Southeast Contractors, hired as the project’s construction management team, attended both meetings to explain the technical aspects of the jail expansion project.

Ashley McAnulty with Stephens Public Finance also attended both meeting to help OLG help explain the increase in that project’s cost.

Clark and the other members expressed their surprise at the project’s technical aspects and the cost increase.

During the County Commission meeting, Dave Van Buskirk, Angie Fuller and David Eldridge expressed their anger, frustration and asked why the cost increases took place.

Finance Director Andrea Smith said she will send a list to all commissioners via email of OLG’s Franklin County Jail expansion changes that impacted the cost of the project after OLG’s October 2016 first estimate.