A special called meeting of the Finance Committee was held on June 5 at the Franklin County Annex Building to discuss cost overruns of the jail expansion project.
The costs of this project are on a seemingly unending upward trajectory.
There are renovations being done of the current facility at the same time of the expansion which naturally cost money.
Things such as replacing the light fixtures to make them more tamper resistant and replacing the 20-year-old roof certainly need to be done and it is only logical to address those issues at the same time new construction is taking place. It was brought up in the meeting that the project was undertaken essentially backwards, with no expert consultation until the money was already being spent.
I left the meeting with more questions than answers. When the previous County Commission approved the project and the bids came back with an almost 50 percent increase in cost, why was there no realization that maybe something was wrong?
One issue discussed in the proposed change orders was the fact the plans called for sheetrock in the jail cells. Why is this just now being noticed?
If you haven’t accidentally damaged a sheetrock wall in your lifetime, you will. How could anyone possibly think sheetrock was an acceptable building material in a jail cell?
The cost to go to a metal ceiling instead of sheetrock is in the $250,000 range. It was brought up that several windows and viewing areas need to be redesigned for the jail to pass inspection. We are two years into this project. Why are these things just now being addressed?
There are areas where money could have been saved. For example, I have asked why copper pipes were specified in the addition when most new construction uses PEX. The plastic PEX tubing is not only cheaper but also more durable and easier to work on.
I have not gotten a satisfactory answer. I simply do not understand how this project can be expected to have a final cost of roughly $16 million.
I would like to use a neighboring county as a point of reference on this issue.
Grundy County recently opened a new jail. Their capacity is 114 beds. We are adding 140 beds to our current jail. Grundy County spent $7 million for an entirely new facility.
There have been problems with the soil at our jail during the expansion project. That is not unusual and is often cited as a reason for cost overruns.
Grundy County actually hit an underground stream during construction. Nothing at our job site even comes close to that kind of an issue.
As I said, there are needed renovations being done to the current facility. I wish someone could explain to me how a 26-bed difference along with renovating an existing building could logically cost more than double. Grundy County also used the same design firm, OLG.
The proposed solution to the cost increases in the jail expansion is to yet again issue a bond. The proposed amount is $1.5 million, but even then we aren’t being told it will absolutely get the project completed.
A $1.5 million bond on a 12-year term will equate to roughly a 2-cent tax increase. We are already facing an 11-cent tax increase to fund the middle school construction, and there is likely to be an additional increase to cover other expenses in the budget.
At what point do we say enough is enough and quit borrowing more money to finish a project that is this out of control?
Possibly the worst part of this situation is a 140-bed addition will not be enough. We will be overcrowded before the bond is paid off. There are some projections that this expanded jail will be at capacity within six months of completion.
Given my experience as a law enforcement officer, I tend to agree with that assessment.
Greg King is the Franklin County District 4, Seat A commissioner and a Decherd police officer.