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Renovation work at courthouse questioned

County-Owned Property Committee members are calling for a plan review to determine if renovations to the second floor of the downtown courthouse in Jonesborough are following specifications of the design approved by the Washington County Commission.
“Every day something is being said to me about a change on the second floor,” Chair Mark Ferguson said during the April 17 committee meeting. “The foreman is no longer on the job. Who is driving this bus is the question I’ve got.”
Ferguson said the items he would like to see addressed are changes in work orders not being approved, the quality of the work, and an itemization of what has been spent.
“The public is going to hold us accountable, and we need to get to the bottom of this,” he said, adding the commission chambers there were supposed to be ready in April.
Ferguson made a motion to ask county building inspector Scott Chapman to review the plans and determine if work is being done according to the specifications outlined. It passed with a unanimous vote.
Zoning Administrator Mike Rutherford said the review could be completed within a week, and the committee voted to meet again Thursday, April 25, at 5 p.m. to review the findings.
Ferguson also asked County Attorney John Rambo why he has not reviewed contracts for work on the second floor, a question to which Rambo offered no answer.
Commission Chair Greg Matherly, Commissioner Doyle Cloyd and Ferguson all said they understood Mayor Dan Eldridge was serving as general contractor. Rambo said he is not aware of any day-to-day supervision from the county.
Eldridge, who was not at the meeting, said neither is correct. Purchasing Director Willie Shrewsbury, architect Fred Ward and Eldridge are managing the project together, he said.
All contracts are going through the Purchasing Department in accordance with the County Financial Management Act of 1957, according to Eldridge. “We have an approved project with an approved budget,” he said.
The county commission approved the breakdown of costs for courthouse renovations totaling $256,000 during its Oct. 22, 2012, meeting.
“We went through the process again during the January meeting,” Eldridge said, referring to the proposed 90-degree shift in the layout of the commission chambers that will provide more seats for the public. “I don’t know of any changes since then,” he added.
During that same meeting, Eldridge told commissioners subcontractors would be hired in-house to handle the work rather than bidding the project to a general contractor, which should save the county a lot of money.
Using inmate labor has provided significant savings, according to Eldridge, though he questioned Ferguson’s use of the term “foreman” for the inmate who was removed from the project after being caught smuggling tobacco products back into the jail.
Eldridge said inmates have been involved solely in the areas of demolition and framing. When the lead inmate was taken off the job, the second-in-charge took over and the demolition and framing projects have never been without leadership.
In addition to the purchasing agent, the architect is on site on a regular basis to meet with the subcontractors, answer questions and oversee the work, Eldridge said.
As far as the delay in the projected finish date, Eldridge said that is part of working in a 100-year-old building. “We’re constantly running into unexpected (challenges) and we don’t have the original drawings of the building,” he said. “I’m not going to apologize. We’re saving money, and we’re getting the work done.”
During the meeting, Ferguson also proposed making the renovations to the third floor a priority to allow the Election Commission staff to move their offices earlier.
The commission agreed to minor renovations to the third floor of the courthouse that include painting and re-carpeting of the offices the Election Commission will be using.
“They have asked for relief from the sheetrock dust, and I recommend taking a short break to prepare the offices on the third floor, and then we’d have the second floor to ourselves,” he said.
Commissioner Alpha Bridger made a motion to accept the resolution stating the third floor renovations will be completed on or before the May commission meeting. The motion was seconded by Commissioner Doyle Cloyd and passed unanimously.
Eldridge said he has received no requests complaints from the Election Commission staff regarding the sheetrock dust. “We were using a gas-powered cutoff saw, and they asked us to stop because of the fumes,” he said. “So we got another type of saw, but that was six weeks ago.”