Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

September 13, 2007

Commissioners get maximum price of jail expansion

Hewlett says 96-bed pod could be built for $8.6 million

By Gary Nelson / gnelson@crossville-chronicle.com

A new 96-bed jail addition will cost Cumberland County a guaranteed maximum price of $8,574,624.

Steve Hewlett of Hewlett Spencer, LLC gave county commissioners the figure Monday evening during a work session about the county jail expansion. If the county decides to go for the proposed full expansion at the Justice Center, Hewlett said the guaranteed maximum price for that would be $18,828,548.

"Through some of that valued engineering were were able to bring the figure down a little for a total savings of $768,000 on the total package," said Steve Hewlett of Hewlett Spencer, LLC.

The full expansion to the Justice Center would add four more courtrooms, all with space for jury trials, space for court clerks' offices and office space for two general sessions judges.

It also includes the 96-bed jail pod, and would provide secure transport for inmates from the jail portion of the building to courtrooms so inmates would not come in contact with the public or potential jurors.

Hewlett estimated the cost of the 96-bed pod construction alone to be around $6 million one year ago. Since then the cost has increased nearly 50-percent and some commissioners questioned the increase.

Hewlett told commissioners that due to the variety of major building projects going on or upcoming nearby in the state that it is very hard to get competitive, low bids on projects. He also explained that the rise in construction expenses and building materials over the past year has caused the various increases.

"It's not going to get any cheaper to wait to build your project. I wouldn't want to bet on that," Hewlett said.

"I have to question the whole process. There are some big increases on here and I just want to know why. You seem like a good guy and it's nothing personal against you, but I just don't believe that number. Not when there is a 96-bed facility being built in Jackson County for $5 million. I mean we are talking about a 40- to 50-percent difference," said 8th District Commissioner Jeff Brown.

"What are the increases and costs with the general contractors? What is that number?" Carmin Lynch, 9th District commissioner asked.

"I can get it for you by the next meeting. I don't have all those numbers off the top of my head, but I will get that for you. So, puff up the price in order to get a better savings on the project, right?" Hewlett said.

"The world tends to work that way," Brown responded.

"I can show you the bids and I'm happy to do that. If I give you a guaranteed maximum price then I make sure all the bids are in and they can do the work for that price and nothing is left out or added in later," Hewlett said.

"Now I've talked with some people that are involved in these bigger projects and I'll tell you, they don't have the workforce around here to do this kind of work. That's what they're finding out on these projects around here. They can't find the qualified people it takes to work on them around here," Lynn Tollett, 3rd District commissioner said.

Architect Kim Chamberlin with Upland Design said he would check on the Jackson County Jail project to see if it could be compared to this project. Hewlett also pointed out that the Jackson County project was bid out one year ago.

"It's unreal — the amounts over the past six to 18 months that these numbers have changed," Tollett said

During the last meeting with commissioners in August Hewlett said pricing options of building just the housing pod portion of the expansion would be at a cost no greater than $9,094,629.

Building the Justice Center expansion and incorporating the old high school would come at a cost no greater than $13,656,126.

Building the housing pod, Justice Center expansion and incorporating the old high school would come a cost no greater than $20,314,832.

"The figures I have given you today are maximums. If there is a way to do any better on them I will. That is part of what we do. Once we agree on the price then I am obligated to cover that. There are no change orders or additions here and there. If a contractor can't do something I'm liable for it and take the loss," Hewlett said.

Commissioners anticipate discussing and voting over the jail expansion proposal during the next county commission meeting which is scheduled for Sept. 17 at 7 p.m. at the Cumberland County Courthouse.