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D.A. Office renovation estimate hits $300,000

Further discussion of the renovation plans for the District Attorney’s Office in the George P. Jaynes Justice Center led Washington County Budget Committee members to cut the proposed amount to spend on the project in half during their June 12 meeting.
“Cost per square foot on this (project) will be the most expensive thing we’ve ever done in Washington County,” Mayor Dan Eldridge said.
What began as a $60,000 improvement plan has grown into a $300,000 construction/plumbing reconfiguration.
“We need to see the plans,” Commission Chair Greg Matherly said last week.
Eldridge explained the design from architect Tony Street to install a second bathroom and a back door requires breaking into the hallway used to transfer inmates and taking Courtroom 4 out of commission while the work is in progress, both of which are very expensive.
Commissioner Joe Grandy questioned the logic of the plan based on prior conversations with District Attorney General Tony Clark.
“All I’ve ever heard is the lack of space. Now they want to use some of the space to add a second bathroom,” Grandy said. “There’s already one there, and another bathroom is right outside the office that (the public) uses.”
Sheriff Ed Graybeal was surprised to learn about the need to break into what is referred to as the “green mile,” which is the tunnel used to transfer inmates from the adjacent jail to the hallway that runs behind the courtrooms in the Justice Center.
“I didn’t understand that was right behind (Clark’s) office,” Graybeal said. “We may be creating a problem we can’t fix.”
Graybeal said he doesn’t think the design will work due to the security risk.
“They will never know when we’ll be coming through with prisoners,” he said, estimating they move eight to 10 inmates through that area at any given time.
Commissioner Mitch Meredith made a motion to reduce the proposed funding for the renovation from $305,000 to $150,000. The motion was seconded by Grandy and passed with unanimous approval.
At the June 19 meeting of the County Owned Property Committee meeting, Chair Mark Ferguson questioned the $300,000 figure, saying he had spoken with Street and did not get the same figure.
“I asked him where the $300,000 came from and he said he didn’t know. He said he can’t have a (cost estimate) for another few weeks,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson went on to say that Street told him Eldridge had contacted the architect demanding a cost estimate so funds could be included in the multimillion dollar loan the county is considering taking out for capital projects.
“(Street) said to me, ‘I told him it could cost anywhere from $50,000 to $300,000,’” Ferguson said. “But now we’ve throwed that $300,000 number out there.”
Eldridge refuted Ferguson’s allegations, saying Street had, in fact, given him the $300,000 estimate.
“Let’s get me, you and Tony Street in the same room and have this conversation,” Eldridge said sharply. “I think that would clarify a lot of things.”
Other members of the committee questioned whether it would be cheaper to find office space outside of the Justice Center for the D.A.’s office to relocate.
Since Clark serves the whole First District, such space could even be outside of Washington County in one of the other counties he represents. Committee members were quick to point out that Carter County would love to have Clark centered there.
Eldridge explained that because Clark works out of Washington County, the county also is responsible for providing all the accounting services for the D.A. Office.
“Then maybe it’s worth it for him to go to Carter County,” committee member George “Skip” Oldham said.
Ferguson argued having Clark headquartered in Washington County was beneficial and should not be reconsidered.
(Executive Editor Kristen Swing contributed to this article.)