Supervisors-elect ask board to postpone plans for new Chimney Square building

Published 5:36 pm Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Pearl River County supervisors-elect, including Hudson Holliday, J. Patrick Lee and Charles Culpepper, asked current board members at the board meeting on Monday to place plans for a new building at Chimney Square in Picayune on hold until the new board could take office in January.

“I understand we are here as private citizens today, but you are trying to compress a project that should take months to do into a few weeks. Whether the building gets built or not is immaterial at this point. There are problems with the plans for that building … I have several concerns, but my main concern is that rush to judgment. … We’re going to be the guys to deal with these problems when they occur. I ask you to really think through before rushing to a judgment to get it done,” Holliday told the board.

District IV Supervisor Robert Thigpen disagreed with Holiday, saying, “Your statement that it is immaterial whether we vote to do this or not is not true. Seventy-five percent of the county’s population lives in the south end of the county and those people deserve county services. … I do not think this board is acting in a hasty manner. We have been working on this project for 18 months. We are going to build something the county can be proud of.”

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The conversation about the Chimney Square building began when Les Dungan of Dungan Engineering reported to the board about the status of various projects in the county, including the Chimney Square plans. Dungan told the board that Dungan Engineering had been hired by the architects for the projects to provide services such as a site plan, surveys, storm water solution and prevention plan and a geotechnical report on the condition of the soil at the Chimney Square site.

“The initial soil investigation has come up with some weak soil that will not allow a standard foundation. We believe a deep foundation will be required for the proposed building. We will have to do more geotechnical work, and do a deeper investigation to provide more information about that foundation… It’s our understanding that the architects will set up bidding documents for deep foundations using our figures. It could result in slightly higher bid prices, as a result of the assumptions (about the soil) that are being made,” Dungan said.

Dungan could not give a firm estimate of how much money the deeper foundation could add to the project, but did estimate it would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $100,000.

Holliday said one of the problems he has is that the cost of the building seems to keep rising, and that the grant money received to rebuild the building would have to be repaid if it did not meet the specifications of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s rebuilding requirements.

“Are you replacing Chimney Square, or are you building something bigger? I know how grants work. You can get a grant, and then they can come in a year later and decide you didn’t ‘rebuild’ Chimney Square. If they decide that, someone has to pay that money back. Ya’ll could be personally liable. I have no problem building first class office facilities for people in the south part of the county, but people are not really excited about building a courthouse in Picayune,” Holliday said.

District I Supervisor Anthony Hales expressed concern about the cost of the building exceeding the grant funds currently available, but said he feels that the new building will be accepted by FEMA as a replacement building for Chimney Square.

“I’m concerned about making sure that when we do put something out there that it’s built and built right, and I don’t want to have to be dealing with something we can’t afford to build. Adrain (Lumpkin, County Administrator) has done his level best to make sure that what we presented to FEMA and MEMA is approved, and I don’t think we have put forth any projects that haven’t been approved … . I’m not worried now (about the design), but what I’m worried about is construction costs. I understand concerns of the new board members … I wanna know how much are we obligated to pay out if we can’t afford the bid? And if we bid out, are we obligated to award the bid if we can’t afford it?” Hales said.

District II Supervisor Danny Wise said he is in favor of proceeding with the building, for numerous reasons.

“I don’t think I could be in favor of stopping without moving forward with this. The plans should be in this week, and … my thoughts are to move forward. When we get to the point of getting bids in, if the funds are not there, then that is the time to make the decision,” Wise said.

“My point is, estimates are already at $7.8 million, which is already over what was available, and now you are adding more money and the cost keeps moving up,” Holliday said. “A $100,000 here and $100,000 there will add up.”

“That’s not entirely accurate, because we do not know what the bids will come in at. If they come in at $7.8 million, I won’t be terribly disappointed. We’re at $7.6 million with funding now. If it comes in at $10 million, that’s a different story,” Wise said.

About the added cost of the deeper foundation, Wise called it “a very small percentage of the cost of the entire building. If you don’t have the correct foundation, you don’t have a solid building. If that’s what is required, the increase in price is not something we can control.”

“We are in need of a juvenile court. We’re short on court space with what we do have. My thoughts are, and we have discussed this at great length, let’s build with room to hold court until something can be done up here (in Poplarville). The need for courtroom space 10 years from now will be greater than it is now,” Wise said. “I think this board has been diligent in seeing what lies in the future for the county. I think you all will do the same to see what will happen next year, five years from now, and 25 years from now. Decisions made today will greatly affect what happens then. If we don’t replace Chimney Square, we don’t get these funds. We have $7.6 million, so let’s continue to move forward and see what we come up with. This board does not have the ability to borrow money to move forward if the amount is greater than that anyway.”

“I’m just concerned about the cost overrun. You are rushing to get the plans done. I’m a big man, and it takes a bigger man than me to say he’s wrong, and if I’m wrong, I’ll say that. I’m just trying to talk the current board into having more faith in the new board and what we’re going to do,” Holliday said.

Thigpen asked Holliday what the new board plans to do about the Chimney Square building once they take office.

“The general consensus of the new board at this point in time is to put a stop to the new building,” Holliday said.

The board also discussed an insurance review request on the county school superintendent’s office building in Carriere. FEMA has agreed to pay $60,000 for damages to the building suffered during Hurricane Katrina, and the county received $20,000 based up on the evaluation from the insurance company.

Hales asked if the county had turned to a public insurance claims adjuster for assistance with dealing with the insurance company.

“There are people that will deal with this for you. If we had $75,000 coverage, and only got $20,000, it seems to me like there’s room to get more money. And it has been determined that insurance companies did not deal fairly with the people. This seems to be one of the cases where we should at least consider using the public adjusters,” Hales said. “If you have estimates that say it will take $98,000 to fix the building, and only have $20,000 from insurance and $60,000 from FEMA, that’s not enough.

Hales made a motion to file a formal appeal with FEMA and then to request public insurance adjusters to review the insurance claim. The motion was seconded by Wise, and passed unanimously.

In other business the board:

— Acknowledged request from Highland Community Hospital for support for new building in Picayune.

— Approved for Road Manager Mike Mitchell to pave a lot at Poplarville High School if the school provides asphalt.

Recessed until Monday, Dec. 3.