Board hears from Benchmark, “We weren’t trying to cut corners”

Published 4:42 pm Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Benchmark construction company proposed to the Pearl River County of Supervisors a fix for the weak window areas at the Pearl River County Jail and said the company would pay for it.
Supervisors heard from Gary Chamblee of Benchmark and Les Dungan of Dungan Engineering about the materials that were used in the construction as they explained how a concrete block was removed from beneath a window allowing two prisoners to escape.
Chamblee said approximately 76,600 concrete blocks and 560 cubic yards of concrete were purchased for jail construction, and approximately 72,800 blocks and 400 cubic yards were used. When Benchmark bid the project, the bid included the concrete blocks being filled with that concrete.
Dungan said that the contractor went out daily and inspected most of the blocks, but admitted that he was unable to check all the blocks. Dungan said that the block that was removed in a jail escape late last month was an isolated case, because it was located under a window jamb.
Chamblee said in the case of rebar, that some cross-sections they had looked at contained #5 rebar, while the wall section in the detention area used #4. In the area where the block was removed, #3 rebar had been used. The specifications called for #4 rebar to be used throughout the jail.
“On the actual detail of the walls, the blueprints called for #4 (rebar). We believe it was a #3 under that window,” Dungan said. “Based on the findings, we believe the situation is isolated.”
Dungan said the difference in the rebar is only an eighth of an inch between each number. In the case of #5 rebar, it is five-eighths of an inch thick, #4 is half-inch and #3 is three-eighths of an inch thick.
District V Supervisor and board president Bettye Stockstill asked what needed to be done to replace or fix the areas containing the windows to avoid another escape.
“One of the things that has been suggested is going back on those back walls and put in a three-eighths plate (of steel) and cut the frame out around those windows and put that on the inside. That’s only in the maximum security area,” County Administrator Adrain Lumpkin said.
“From the test reports and all, the majority you will find is that the concrete used actually exceeds the plans,” Lumpkin said.
District II Supervisor Danny Wise asked who was going to pay for the repairs to the jail, and Chamblee said Benchmark would pay for the repairs.
“I want ya’ll to realize we really weren’t trying to cut corners or anything like that,” Chamblee said.
Dungan also told the board about two bridges located on Burnt Bridge Road outside of Picayune that need emergency repair.
Dungan said in a recent inspection, the second and third bridges on Burnt Bridge Road were determined to need emergency repair of 24 pilings between the two bridges.
“I went out and looked at it. The pilings have mushroomed down where the bridge is sitting on them,” District IV Supervisor Robert Thigpen said.
The board also heard from Becky Baum, program manager for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency in the housing program. Baum told the board that she is still working with the three coastal counties to place the Mississippi Cottages in those areas, but that once all the resources have been exhausted, if there are any available units, they would be made available to Pearl River County.
Baum said if units were to be made available to residents of Pearl River County, they would have to meet certain requirements to qualify for the units. Qualified residents will have had to be a resident of Pearl River County or one of the three coastal counties on the day of the storm, and has to be living in a travel trailer as of April 1 of this year, and not be permanently housed.
“If they’re in a rental unit, they’re considered permanently housed, but if they’re living with family members, that’s not permanent housing,” Baum said.
The board voted to accept the cottages in Pearl River County, contingent on availability after all possibilities are exhausted in the three lower coastal counties.
Debbie Naquin of the Henleyfield Community came before the board to ask about the county’s leash law. Naquin said she was unaware that there was a leash law in the county, but that she has had the sheriff’s department called about her dogs several times in recent weeks.
District I Supervisor Anthony Hales said he believes the law states that dogs must be kept on a leash or under control of some fashion.
“I imagine the average person doesn’t know the county has (the leash law). I don’t think it’s strictly enforced, but it is something that is on the books for when people have animals that are considered to be nuisances or dangerous,” Hales said.
A public hearing on the budget also was held.
The only discussion was about the money that is budgeted for economic development. Thigpen said he wants to start a county economic development board, and withdraw from the Partners for Pearl River County.
“We’re not getting anything out of it. I was told once that we needed to lower our expectations. When someone tells me we need to lower our expectations, I think we need to raise our level of looking for someone else to do that job,” Thigpen said.
The other board members agreed and the board voted to move the monies designated for economic development, which were divided between Partners for Pearl River County and the Poplarville and Picayune Chambers of Commerce, into one item designated strictly for economic development. The budget was approved with the change.
In other business the board:
— Accepted August 2007 Central Landfill report.
— Reappointed Kathy Holland as Pearl River County Library System Trustee.
Recessed until 9 a.m. Monday, Sept. 24.