published Sunday, February 8th, 2009

Bledsoe County hires new jail architect, sets meeting to pick plan

PIKEVILLE, Tenn. — Bledsoe officials are back at the drawing board with a new architect as commissioners prepare to pick a new jail design with a 2010 completion date.

“The commission hired Vance Travis (of TWH Architects) at the January 20 commission meeting,” County Mayor Gregg Ridley said Friday. “I have called a special commission meeting for Feb. 17 in order for the full commission to take action on the number of beds and to approve the contract with Mr. Travis.”

Despite a suit pending against former architect J. Mark Rodgers, Mr. Ridley said, “We are making great progress.”

County leaders started planning for a new jail in early 2007. A visit from state fire officials that summer led to the closure of the 1851-era jail. Inmates were shipped to other counties while commissioners studied plans for a new lock-up. The state later allowed the temporary reopening of the old jail to hold nine prisoners as long as the county kept pursuing a new jail.

Bledsoe County Circuit Court records show the county filed a complaint in late December against Mr. Rodgers’ Crossville-based firm seeking to recover $176,633 paid for his services and unspecified future expenses associated with hiring a new architect. The county claims Mr. Rodgers failed to develop designs and estimates within the project budget.

Mr. Rodgers declined comment last week but said in December that disputes must be settled through mediation and arbitration, not court action. He withdrew from the project in October, citing a “hostile environment,” records show.

Commission Chairman Craig Mercer said the jail committee will recommend a 96-bed jail that includes 24 beds for women.

He said the design is almost identical to the Sequatchie County Justice Center, also TWH’s handiwork.

“If they (county commissioners) agree with it, fine; if they don’t we’ll adjust it accordingly,” he said. “We’ve got to move on.”

Mr. Mercer said if the new design is approved Feb. 17, construction could start “in a couple of months.”

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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