Supervisors-elect attempt to clarify their positions on Chimney Square project

Published 12:09 am Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Pearl River County supervisors-elect attempted this week to clarify their positions on the construction of the Chimney Square project, after District III supervisor-elect Hudson Holliday said at the board meeting on Monday that the members of the new board would put a stop to the project when they take office.

District V Supervisor-elect Sandy Kane Smith, who was not present at Monday’s meeting, said in a phone interview on Wednesday that he is in favor of a county office building in Picayune.

“I’m not in a coalition with anyone. I’m for building the building. (Hudson Holliday) is not speaking for me,” Smith said. “All I want is to see the plans for the building and make sure it is the right thing to do for the county. I want to build what we had before.”

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District IV Supervisor-elect Patrick Lee said in a phone interview Wednesday that he also is in favor of a new building.

“There are going to be (county) offices in Picayune. All the new members feel the same way. We just think (the current board members) are rushing the project, and that we (the new supervisors) should have the final say. We do not want anything rushed,” Lee said.

Lee said he wanted the chance to review other options regarding the building, such as the fact that the city of Picayune had offered land at the end of Goodyear Boulevard to the county to use to rebuild county offices, rather than at the current Chimney Square location.

“I want to look at all the available options and do what is right for the south end of the county. We’re going to have nice offices in Picayune. We just don’t want to be forced into something that we will be responsible for that might put us in a financial bind,” Lee said.

District II Supervisor-elect Charles Culpepper said he was listening to the things that were being said at the meetings, but refused to comment further.

“I was at the meeting and heard what they had to say, and that’s all I have to say about it,” Culpepper said in a phone interview on Tuesday.

Holliday said in a phone interview Friday that he is not against building offices in Picayune, but that he feels the current board is rushing to award bids on the project.

“My argument is that they are rushing. The cost overrun and the change orders are unknown factors. The cost overrun on the project is going to be exorbitant. They currently have $7.3 million in grant funds. The estimated cost of the building is currently at $7.8 million, and when you add in the cost of the deeper foundation and pilings that will put you at almost $700,000 over the grant funds. … Contractors love to get change orders. You could spend $1 million to $1.5 million in change orders alone,” Holliday said.

District V Supervisor Bettye Stockstill said in a phone interview Friday that it was possible that change orders would arise, but that there are provisions within the Federal Emergency Management Agency grant that provide for the costs of most of the change orders.

“It’s my understanding that when there are change orders needed, FEMA should step in at that point,” Stockstill said.

Holliday said he also has a problem with the addition of courtrooms in the building at Chimney Square.

“I am fully supportive of a first-class, state-of-the-art county office complex for the south end of the county. I have never said we won’t do that. But you are putting the criminal element across the street from the school. … You are bringing the criminal element and putting them in the parking lot with school children. … The county was offered land at the end of Goodyear Boulevard where City Hall is, but they are h*** bent on putting the building at Chimney Square,” Holliday said.

“The only reason we are putting in more courtroom space is to plan for the future,” said Stockstill. “But it feels like (the new board) doesn’t want to do that. The old building had courtroom space too. This one just has more than the old one did.”

In a phone interview Saturday, District IV Supervisor Robert Thigpen said there has been no problem in the past with Chimney Square being located near the school.

“We previously had a parole office in there for over 15 years. There was also a sheriff’s office, and the Mississippi Department of Public Safety operated their driver’s license office there. We have had no trouble in those 15 years. … Also most of the court cases that will be held in those courtrooms will be civil; they won’t be capital cases. Very few will involve the (dangerous) criminal element,” Thigpen said.

County Administrator Adrain Lumpkin said in a phone interview Friday that the county had at one time been in discussions with the City of Picayune for land at the end of Goodyear Boulevard, but that nothing had come of the discussions.

Thigpen said a lot of work would have to have been done to the land that the city was offering to the county.

“There was a lot of underground pilings and concrete and other stuff that would have had to have been removed. We already have the blueprints that are for the current location. If we move, it would be at least another year before there would be a new set of blueprints, which means another year before citizens would have services in the south end,” Thigpen said.

Holliday said he wants to review other options for usage of the grant funds to replace Chimney Square.

“We could use this money to put offices in Picayune, a justice courtroom in Poplarville, and a possible DHS (Department of Human Services) building in Millard. This just has not been thought through,” Holliday said.

Lumpkin said that while the grant money could be used for other projects, it would change the way the funding was paid out if designated for a project other than replacing Chimney Square.

“With the FEMA money, to change projects would change the criteria for the project. It would be considered an ‘alternate project.’ The money would still be there, but the percentages would change. If we did another building under an ‘alternate project’, the funding would be less,” Lumpkin said.

Holliday said he just believes that the current board is making a mistake by trying to push to award a contract before the new board takes office on January 7, 2008.

“I’ll tell you what’s going to happen. The contract will come in for X number of dollars. Then there will be a change order for this and a change order for that. Where is the money going to come from? There will be no stopping once it is started, but you can’t put the building up as it is currently drawn. I’m just trying to keep them from making a mistake. This has to be a business decision. It can’t be based on emotions,” Holliday said.

Lumpkin said finalized plans should be turned into the county offices by next week, and the advertisement for bids will be placed in Sunday’s paper. Bids will be opened on Dec. 27, due to the advertising time requirement, Lumpkin said.

As to Holliday’s claim that there would be no stopping the project, Lumpkin said he is not sure about the wording of the law, but that there is a law that states “the old board cannot bind the new board,” meaning that the current board cannot get to a point-of-no-return with the project.

Holliday says he is just concerned about the costs of the building, not only with the construction but also with furnishing the building and its daily operations.

“I want to know the entire cost of the building, including any change orders. Also, does that price include furniture, courtroom seats, desks, computers and security systems? Also, how much will it cost to operate? All that costs money, and I’m not a guy who is going to raise taxes. I’m working for a more effective and efficient government. Where will the money come from? Libraries? Schools? Roads? This cannot be an emotional decision. It has to be a business decision. It can’t be to satisfy this group or that group, but rather what is best for Pearl River County,” Holliday said.

Thigpen said he worries that a delay in proceeding with the current plans would be detrimental to the whole project.

“If we delay, something may come up and then the funding may no longer be available. Hudson Holliday is trying to delay and deny people services in the south end of the county. Also if we delay, there may be another natural disaster elsewhere, and then the money may go elsewhere. If that happens, eventually taxes will be raised to pay for new courtroom space,” Thigpen said.