Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

January 28, 2013

County moving forward with Big South Fork Visitor's Center

By Gary Nelson
Senior staff writer

CROSSVILLE — The Cumberland County Commission voted to pursue construction and work toward completing the Big South Fork Visitor's Center project after an 11-7 vote in favor was made during Tuesday night's county commission meeting.

A private business, who wishes to remain anonymous, also has come forth to donate $10,000 toward the project in order to help see the project happen.

The Financial Management Committee will now review the bids on the project later this week and once approved, the project will again be submitted to the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) for its final consideration.

"We have $635,000 in grants and federal grants. Studies have shown that tourism and this project will bring dollars into the county and we're going to employ people to build and run this facility. People come here and look to see what we have to offer and this is one of the reasons we have one of the lowest tax rates in the state. We have a lot of retirees here that spend a lot of money here. I think it will add a lot and be one more thing that says 'let's stop here in Cumberland County.' I think it will continue to make the county prosper. If we say no, then the money won't come into the county ... I think it's in the best interest of the county to move forward with this project," said 5th District Commissioner Joe Koester.

Prior to Koester's comments, Cumberland County Finance Director Nathan Brcok reported the re-bid of the Big South Fork Visitor’s Center project was completed and the low bid came in at $604,000 by W&O Construction.

The county has received grants in the amount of $480,000 from the state, $25,000 from Rural Development and is supposed to receive $120,000 of funding from the city of Crossville. And an additional $10,000 is being donated if the county completes the project.

Total expenses on the project would be $631,451.92. Total revenue on the project is listed at $635,991.20.

The project has been bid four times. The first two times the project came in over. The third time the project came in under, but it did not meet specifications of the grant from TDOT and federal transportation.

The county then voted to have the project re-bid for a fourth time and the bid came back at $604,000.

Brock explained there were some additional expenses associated with the project with advertising the re-bid and some construction and engineering expenses.

"My personal opinion is that requirements of the project including DBE (Disadvantaged Business Enterprises) have added costs to the project," Brock said.

Carmin Lynch, 9th District commissioner, asked if there was a written commitment included with the $10,000 donation and Cumberland County Mayor Kenneth Carey, Jr. said he had it in hand. Lynch also asked if there was any contingency money included with the project.

"No, there is little to none. It is a very tight project," Brock said.

"I don't know of any project the county has done without contingency funds," Lynch said.

"I've been a supporter in the past on this project but my concern is that the bids on the project keep going up and up," said Larry Allen, 6th District commissioner.

Brock explained there were some additional expenses associated with the project with advertising the re-bid and some construction and engineering expenses.

"My personal opinion is that requirements and not guidelines of the project including DBE (Disadvantaged Business Enterprises) workers have added costs to the project," Brock said.

Jeff Brown, 8th District commissioner, made a motion to mover forward with the project and it was supported by Robert Safdie, 2nd District commissioner.

"What you're getting here is a shell of a building and a slab of concrete for about $300 a square foot and the cost doesn't stop here. This will be an ongoing cost to the county for 20 years. This will be an albatross around the neck of the county. Many retirees in my district said 'don't spend my tax dollars for this project' so I will vote no," Lynch said.

Brown said the cost was not $300 per square foot because excavation and parking and utilities was included in the cost of the project.

"You can't look at it like a home construction project," Brown said.

Jan McNeil, 5th District commissioner, said she agreed with Koester's remarks and said tourism has blessed this county and given us so much to offer.

"It may cost to run the facility, but I think the benefits will far outweigh the cost," McNeil said.

Nancy Hyder, 2nd District commissioner, said a consultant from the University of Tennessee said the visitor's center would be good for the economy and increase tourism.

"It will save us more money in taxes and help us increase revenue for the county and we need to find additional revenue for this county," Hyder said.

Voting in favor of continuing forward with the project were commissioners Brian Houston and Harry Sabine, 1st District; Hyder and Safdie, 2nd District; Allen Foster, 4th District; Koester and McNeil, 5th District; Terry Carter, 6th District; Roy Turner, 7th District; Brown and Sonya Rimmer, 8th District.

Voting against the project were commissioners Dave Hassler and Johnny Presley, 3rd District; Charles Seiber, 4th District; Allen, 6th District; Mike Harvel, 7th District; and Lynch and John Kinnunen, 9th District.

After the project is submitted for TDOT review and if it is approved, Brock said construction of the facility is expected to take six months or less.