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BMA approves extra $700,000 for Senior Center completion

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen unanimously approved a Rural Development loan for an additional $700,000 to complete the construction of the Senior Center during a special meeting Monday morning.
Alderman Terry Countermine was not present during the meeting.
Mayor Kelly Wolfe told the board that the Senior Center is an investment and 20 years from now, nobody will remember that the Senior Center went $700,000 over budget.
“They will sure know what an important facility this is to the whole town and how prominently we have placed it on Main Street and how much we value our seniors by the prominent role we have given them in our community,” he said.
The additional project cost includes Ken Ross Architects inspections; engineering; permits, newspaper ads and signage; drainage materials; legal services through Bass, Berry & Simms; interest owed to Rural Development; land, change orders and landscaping.
Wolfe said unfortunately things like this fall under normal course of business when there are projects of this nature and size.
“We’ve conducted two major projects lately. One was the sewer plant expansion, and the other was the building of the Senior Center. We are done with the sewer plant expansion. That project came in right at the estimated cost,” Wolfe said. “In fact, we ended up with $120,000 extra when we were done. We ended with a little bit left over due to some various reasons. With the Senior Center project, unfortunately, the bid came back at twice what we had been told.”
He said they knew they were going to come up short on the senior center, but did not know how much.
“Great news about this proposal is even though you are going back and borrowing $700,000 more, the debt service that we had already covers the land, and covers this long-term debt all but about $1,500 a year,” Wolfe said. “If you have to have a situation where you run short, this one has ended up fairly well in terms of the cash flow.”
He went on to say that he personally is still not happy that the architect could not give them a better number when the project started.
“Of course, after you go through the months and months of planning like we did involving the Senior Advisory Committee, involving town staff, involving engineering, mechanical, electrical systems, all this stuff, and you get to the day you open the bids and you find out the bad news, it’s a tough pill to swallow. To go back and start the process over and have everybody disappointed from that point,” Wolfe said. “The architect should have done a better job getting the numbers right. We have stakeholders in this project and the town who looks to us to make good decisions.”
Alderman David Sell said the biggest issue that bothers him is they are at the point of no return.
“Our backs are against the wall,” he said, adding that $700,000 is a huge amount of money to put on the tax payers’ back. “It’s just the margin of error is huge, very huge.”
Wolfe told Sell that throughout the project, he asked if the Senior Center could be built for the original budgeted number.
“If I asked it once, I asked it 20 times,” he said. “We were given those assurances. I guess what you do in a situation like this is you suck it up and do what you have to do at this point, but then you look and say what have I learned? How do we keep this from happening in the future? That becomes the most important question at this point.”
Town Administrator Bob Browning said with a new building, they sort of relied on the expertise of others.
“I think I could have done a better job myself at paying attention to what the Senior Center Advisory Committee was asking them to do,” he said.
Wolfe said when you get into this situation, he thinks professionally, you set people up for disappointment.
“All I can tell you is we are not going to be disappointed again,” he said. “They need to be forewarned, our staff needs to be forewarned that we are not going to tolerate being put in this situation again. I know you are working on this, Bob, and I am not being disrespectful in saying that, but it’s not fair to this board, it’s not fair to the taxpayers of the town for this be done in a manner that it has been.”
The board also approved the second reading of an ordinance reestablishing the Senior Citizens Advisory Committee. The advisory committee was established 35 years ago in 1980.
The committee now includes nine members with the majority of members having to be Jonesborough residents, owning property, or owning or managing a business in Jonesborough. It also includes a BMA member, as well as a county commissioner member or county designee.
“I really applaud the town administrator for the amendments. There have been some outstanding individuals that have served on this committee, but now as we are moving forward I think it is very positive that we look at re-crafting the committee as we think about the next chapter for the senior center and moving the town forward,” Alderman Adam Dickson said.
Wolfe said he will bring forth names for the committee during the April meeting.