published Thursday, November 14th, 2013

Hamilton County commissioners mull options for firing range

Hamilton County Commissioners conduct business during a commission meeting in this file photo.
Hamilton County Commissioners conduct business during a commission meeting in this file photo.
Photo by Tim Barber /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

In other business, commissioners:

• Considered a $176,526 contract with Custom Truck and Body Works for a new ambulance.

• Considered a resolution to pay a $90,000 settlement to Gayla Moates for claims against Hamilton County Register of Deeds Pam Hurst and her office.

• Discussed a resolution to amend a grant agreement between the Tennessee Department of Human Services and Hamilton County Juvenile Court's child support division, and to increase the revenue budget by $33,333 and the expenditures to $50,000.

Hamilton County commissioners said during Wednesday's agenda session that the 24,000-square-foot police firing range the county is building with Chattanooga needs to be slimmed down, built somewhere else or completely rebid.

The project is expected to cost $1.05 million more than quoted in January -- bringing the total price to $5.05 million -- and Sheriff Jim Hammond asked commissioners a second time to pitch in $550,000 more toward the 3-year-old project.

In January, the county agreed to pay $1 million, with a $500,000 contingency. At that time, the city was set to add $1.5 million, with the last $1 million coming from federal grants. Chattanooga City Council members haven't been briefed yet on the extra costs.

Commissioner Joe Graham suggested nullifying the contract with Franklin Architects, signed in February, and rebidding the project. He also said he would not vote for a building that had a flat roof, as shown in the schematic design.

Matthew Twitchell, with Franklin Architects, told Graham his company had not been under contract in January when the county was quoted the first price, and it had consulted with several contractors since to bring more accurate numbers. Further, he said the design supplied to commissioners was the one that met the program, safety and architectural requirements of the project.

Commissioner Tim Boyd was less concerned with the roof and more upset about the ground.

Boyd said the county never should have agreed to build on the site, which required more than $600,000 of soil remediation and another $400,000 in site prep.

"We got a free piece of property in a known brownfield that we had to spend $1 million on before we laid the first yard of concrete," Boyd said. "If the city wants to use that property, bless them. Let Yusuf [Hakeem] and the city build something on it."

Boyd suggested building on what he called clean property the county already owns off Amnicola Highway or Bonny Oaks Drive.

Chairman Fred Skillern said he didn't think those options are on the table. The best bet, he said, is for architects to work with what they have and shave off some of the 12,000 square feet of classroom and office space.

"I think we've dug ourselves in such a hole, we don't even see sunlight on the Fourth of July in that hole," Skillern said. "I do want a shooting range. I think we should proceed with a shooting range, but I think we should proceed within the original budget."

Other commissioners who had questions for Twitchell, Hammond and county staff personnel were not as outspoken as Graham, Boyd or Skillern.

Only Commissioner Greg Beck said he supported granting the extra $550,000 request.

"It seems, chairman, that these observations and these problems always come up when it comes to training law enforcement officers, who we expect to put their lives on the line for us," Beck said.

He said he's seen change orders and extra funding for soil remediation passed without a fuss for schools -- and to attract businesses like Volkswagen.

"I'm certainly going to support going ahead with this, even though we are having these problems. But keep in mind, we are trying to train those people who are trying to protect the public."

Mayor Jim Coppinger said even with the extra $550,000, taxpayers would save money.

"This does cut cost for the taxpayers. ... If we do it jointly, although it's more expensive than it was originally, we are going to save county taxpayers," Coppinger said.

The alternative would mean county residents who live in the city would chip in to buy a multimillion-dollar range for the city department, and another for the county sheriff's office.

The commission is expected to vote on the issue next week during its regularly scheduled meeting.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6481.

about Louie Brogdon...

Louie Brogdon began reporting with the Chattanooga Times Free Press in February 2013. Before he came to the Scenic City, Louie lived on St. Simons Island, Ga. and covered crime, courts, environment and government at the Brunswick News, a 17,000-circulation daily on the Georgia coast. While there, he was awarded for investigative reporting on police discipline and other law enforcement issues by the Georgia Press Association. For the Times Free Press, Louie covers Hamilton County ...

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