The Cumberland County Financial Management Committee unanimously approved bid and procurement items yesterday at a noon meeting. They approved a $93,940 bid from Bonitz Flooring of Knoxville, for flooring installation in several areas of CCHS, Stone Elementary and Martin Elementary and a $47,483.60 bid from Isenhour Door Products of Nashville, for steel replacement doors in “miscellaneous” schools.
The committee approved a bid of $337,199.32 from Quality Correctional Health Care of Birmingham, Alabama, to provide healthcare services for the jail and juvenile-detention facilities.
“This is not intended to cover the total cost [of medical care] for inmates,” Finance Director Nathan Brock explained, adding, “It does take care of most of the identifiable costs that we have.”
The committee unanimously approved a $2,294,000 bid from Merit Construction, Inc. of Knoxville, for renovations to the football stadium at Cumberland County High School – provided the school board comes up with the overage funds.
The major item for discussion was the proposed nearly $10 million project for construction of a new Crab Orchard Elementary School. Two primary areas of concern arose at the meeting surrounding the school-building project: the far-higher than expected cost of site prep and the ongoing sewage issue at the site.
Commissioner Nancy Hyder asked about the cost of a fix for the septic system.
First District School Board member Jeff Freitag, who has been tapped to look into the issue, said it would probably cost $150,000 and $250,000. “It’d be considerably less than tying in with city sewer,” he said, noting the cost to run seven miles of pipe to connect to the city sewer line at Peavine would be approximately $500,000-750,000.
“People think we’re against projects ’cause we ask questions,” Hyder said. “It needs to be fixed on the front end before we build that $10 million school. We want it to be done right. It needs to be done right in the beginning.”
When asked whether he could guarantee the sewage issue would be resolved, Freitag replied, “I’m guaranteeing I’m trying to find a solution. That’s all I’m guaranteeing.” He’ll meet Wednesday with Tare, Inc., a Crossville-based civil-engineering company that has submitted a proposal that outlines prospective resolutions to the sewage issues. “I really feel positive we’re going to be able to do something,” Freitag said. “My goal is to get septic where we don’t have to tap into the city sewers.”
Director of Schools Janet Graham pointed out the project didn’t adequately take into account the capacity of the septic system. “We’re going to have to put in a separate septic system [for] the kitchen,” she said. “it overshot the capacity for the system.”
Architect Kim Chamberlin of Upland Design Group pointed out more-efficient plumbing, low-flow toilets and other water-saving measures will facilitate the septic-issue resolution.
Aside from the ongoing sewage problems, the project (for which Wilson Construction Group, LLC, of Athens, Tennessee, submitted a bid of $9,989,000) ran into several issues.
Chamberlin said he spoke with the contractor, who cited several factors in the bid coming in as high as it did. Newly imposed tariffs have contributed to cost increases for materials; labor shortages for skilled workers are also an issue. But the biggest surprise was the site-clearing cost. The school is slated to be constructed on the existing football field and site excavation was expected to cost $600,000; but because the football field was put on what was basically fill, the costs for clearing the site ballooned to approximately $1.5 million.
“That field was basically rubbish,” Chamberlin said. “For a football field, it’s fine, but it won’t hold a building.”
Mayor Kenneth Carey, who chairs the Financial Management Committee, said cost overruns are nothing new on such projects – he said he’s been seeing it happen for 20 years – but it’s something that can’t continue. “We can’t authorize any additional funds,” he said. He expressed a need for “more accountability to the taxpayers,” adding, “It’s almost $1.4 million over and the taxpayers are the ones that’s being deceived.”
In response, Graham said, “I don’t think anybody saw some of these things coming.” She went on to say, “The spread on these bids are less than $500,000. I don’t think anybody knew the excavation on that piece of property was going to be [that much].”
Carey replied, “When we had the guaranteed maximum price, that’s the only time projects came in on budget. What’s been approved by the County Commission has already been borrowed.”
After extensive discussion, no action was taken on the Crab Orchard project, which must now go back to the budget committee. “The finance committee can only take action on what the budget committee has recommended and the full commission has approved,” said Mayor Kenneth Carey, who chairs the finance committee.
What happens next is up to the budget committee. “If they vote additional funding, it goes to the full commission on the 18th. If not, it stops in its tracks,” Chamberlin told 1057 News.
After the meeting, Carey expressed frustration with the process. “It just happens over and over,” he told 1057 News, noting 90 percent of the existing school is being torn down, instead of preserving more of it that could be salvaged. “It’s not the first time I’ve been through that rodeo.”