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Committee sees progress now in jail construction

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By The Staff

By DAMON LAWRENCE

rclawrence@bellsouth.net

Roane County Executive Mike Farmer said he’s not happy with the state of the county’s new jail project.

“I’ll be happy when (Sheriff) Jack (Stockton) locks up the first person,” Farmer said.

Farmer made those comments at the end of a jail construction oversight committee meeting on Wednesday.

Even though the project is months behind schedule and the county is named in a law-suit filed by a subcontractor, committee members were cordial and had no quarrels over the issues that have dogged the project.

“They’re straightening out and getting things done,” said Commissioner James Harmon, chairman of the committee. “They’re pouring concrete. That’s what we wanted to see.”

The county has around $10 million committed to the project.

Farmer said last month that he had no idea when the new jail would be finished or if it would be completed on budget.

Work has been under way since August 2007. One part of the project consists of renovating the existing building that is connected to Dollar General. That space will house the sheriff’s and emergency management offices. Stockton and Howie Rose, the emergency management director, both said they have no idea when they will be able to move in. The office portion was originally supposed to be complete by October.

The second part of the project is building the dormitory portion of the jail that will house the prisoners.

Henson Construction Services is overseeing the project. In an e-mail, HCS president Cary Henson said the project is behind schedule for the following reasons:

• Site work was stopped for approximately one month while the civil engineer redesigned water and sewer lines to the city of Kingston’s requirements.

• Weather delays due to an unusually wet winter have cost approximately one month.

• Site contractor (J&M Inc.) nonconforming work issues have cost the project approximately one and a half months in delays.

Henson expressed confidence that lost time could be made up and the county will not incur any additional cost on the project. He also wrote in the e-mail that he believes the entire project can be completed by late spring 2009.

While the county awaits completion of the new jail, the current jail continues to have overcrowding issues and remains under decertification status by the Tennessee Corrections Institute. Stockton said he believes the jail can regain its certification if they can re-strict the inmate numbers.

Stockton has started an ankle-bracelet program for nonviolent offenders, which he said will help reduce overcrowding.

But the outdated facility, built in the 1970s, continues to have problems with infra-structure.

Stockton said some pipes broke under the detectives office recently.

That could cost $10,000 to fix, Stockton said.

In the lawsuit that was filed, Brian Mullins of Siteworx LLC names J&M, HCS, Clay Williams and Associates and the Roane County government as defendants.

Mullins claimed all conspired against his company for not agreeing to acknowledge fault over project delays.

J&M subcontracted with Siteworx to perform work on the site.

Farmer said the county’s position is Mullins worked for J&M, not the county.

Mullins admits some groundwork he did on the project was done incorrectly, but said he was only following the specific instructions of jail project foreman George Myers.

He has a tape recording where a voice that appears to be that of Myers can be heard saying, “It’s my mistake on the undercut geo-grid, 100 percent. I’ll take responsibility for that.”

Myers declined to comment.

Harmon is also aware of the tape.

“He (Mullins) has a tape recording of that foreman telling him to change that,” Harmon said.

In spite of the lawsuit controversy, some county officals say they’re just satisfied work appears to be picking up.

During the oversight committee meeting, HCS project manager Rigg Ferguson said the office portion of the project is 35 percent complete.

Ferguson said he still believes it can be finished by October. He said he wants the roof to be on the new jail by the middle of November. Workers will have to work fast to make that happen.

“Anytime we’ve got good days we need to be making hay,” Ferguson said.