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USDA, County officials get ball rolling on new jail

Friday, December 16, 2011

Fulton County Quorum Court members met with representatives from the USDA and architects Lee and Associates to discuss the next steps for the new jail project, on Wednesday, Dec. 7.

"We want to sit down and talk about what we need from each party to get the project ready to bid," said Carolyn Woehl with the USDA.

Doug Lee said his architects are working on the plans and specifications now, but stated that they wouldn't be ready until Spring.

"It's hard getting stuff done now, because of the holidays," said Doug Lee. "It will probably be March before they're ready. We still have some questions as to the work that needs to be done on the existing building."

Fulton County Judge Charles Willett said the county will handle bidding out the demolition required on two of the wings of the old nursing home building. Until that demolition is complete, the architects can't do their final surveys of the property.

But that isn't the only hurdle the county has ahead of it.

"There are some legal issues," said County Attorney Dwayne Plumlee. "Clearly some work needs to be done on the chain of title. It's just some housekeeping stuff. We need to get some quit-claim deeds, and there is an issue on the back fence that is owned by the property owner adjacent to us. It is on our property, by 15 feet on one end and 18 feet on the other."

Judge Willett and Fulton County Sheriff Buck Foley were tasked with coming up with a budget for the operation and maintenance for the new facility, and a spreadsheet showing that the current budget is in fact adequate to run the new facility.

"We'll net a considerable savings on our expenses right now, for housing in other counties," said Plumlee. "So that will make up the bulk of that."

Talk then moved to changing interest rates, and how they might affect the overall cost of the project. The interest rate on the USDA loan that the county has secured is currently 3.75 percent, and will change again in January. "If the project isn't ready to go to bid within the first quarter of 2012, the rate will change again; but the county has locked in a four percent cap on the interest rate, so it won't be any worse than that," said Woehl.

Once the bids go out, the county is still looking at an eight to nine month build time, dependent on weather. Plus, once the facility is complete, it has to go through three review periods of up to 60 days each.

"These reviews can't be done at the same time," said Doug Lee. "They have to be sequential. It's hard to give a straight answer on how long the review process could take, but I would estimate it will be a total of a year and a half before we're up and operational with the new jail."

Quorum Court members then asked about the bid process.

"We'll advertise for three weeks, and then accept bids the fourth week," said Doug Lee. "It has to be advertised in a statewide paper. There will be no local preference allowed."

JP Marjorie Rogers asked if the county would have to accept the lowest bid. Doug Lee pointed out that a statement would be included in the bid request that any and all bids can be rejected.

"As long as the low bidder complies with all regulations, it is very difficult to reject it," said Herman Lee. "It's possible that there will be a mix up on the low bidders bond, or some other issue. But typically, if all requirements are met, then the low bid is accepted."

Depending on how the contractor's compile their bids, a difference of up to $350,000 could exist between the high and low bids. "On a job this size, it's simply the way a contractor looks at it," said Herman Lee.

JP Jimmy Marler asked if anyone would be tasked with looking after the county's interests in the project.

Judge Willett mentioned that local contractor and jail committee member Jerry Blevins had originally been planned as the project manager.

"In the beginning we thought about construction management, but Steven Legasse (with the USDA) said we had to go public bid," said Herman Lee. "So, that situation isn't going to work."

Legasse is the head of the State USDA office, and has final say on USDA funded projects.

It was determined that Lee and Associates will be in charge of the project once construction begins, which could start as early as mid-summer next year.

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