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Showdown brewing on courthouse renovations

Budget Committee members have requested a face-to-face with members of the County-Owned Property Committee and newly hired Construction Manager Hiram Rash to break down the $150,000 request in new spending to finish the second floor renovations in the downtown courthouse.
“Let me summarize what you’re being asked to approve,” Mayor Dan Eldridge said during the Jan. 15 meeting of the Budget Committee. “It’s a change in the way the project is being completed. The committee doesn’t want to use inmate labor.”
Eldridge referred to multiple projects completed by inmates for Jonesborough and the county.
“One thing I’m not sure anyone understands is we have a lot of very skilled craftsmen in the Detention Center, and we weren’t breaking new ground here,” he said.
Commission Chair Greg Matherly agreed, adding the inmates did a great job on the third floor courthouse renovations.
“It’s a resource many counties don’t have,” he said. “One of the biggest problems is a lot of the skilled inmates haven’t been sentenced, and they can’t work on a project until they’ve been sentenced.”
In addition to costs for subcontracted labor, items not previously approved by the commission are now part of the package, according to Eldridge.
“We had planned to reuse the doors and many were already installed, but now they’re coming back and replacing with new ones,” he said.
The choice of higher-end products is also driving up the cost. “There’s a difference in hiring a millworker versus using wood studs and trim like the original courthouse,” he noted.
Eldridge estimates the project could see a 50 percent cost increase with no change in design.
“I feel like we can’t all get on the same page of music,” Matherly said.
“If we’re not getting any more bang for the buck, I’m going to have to break it down before I answer.”
Commissioner Pete Speropulos asked if everything had been signed off on with the fire marshal. Purchasing Agent Willie Shrewsbury confirmed, and Eldridge said the permit has been in-hand since July.
Commissioner Mitch Meredith suggested bringing in a representative from the County-Owned Property Committee or sending the resolution to the commission with a recommendation to decline approval.
Matherly said he would prefer to call a meeting rather than hash it out on the commission floor.
Speropulos made a motion, seconded by Commissioner Ethan Flynn, to recess until Wednesday, Jan. 22, at 9 a.m. when committee members will reconvene to discuss the project with Rash and the County-Owned Property Committee, made up of Commissioners Phyllis Corso, Alpha Bridger, Doyle Cloyd, Mark Ferguson and Joe Sheffield.