published Friday, July 18th, 2014

Three bids to raze Chattanooga's Tubman homes all come in high

Old clothesline poles are seen at the site of the former Harriet Tubman Homes.
Old clothesline poles are seen at the site of the former Harriet Tubman Homes.
Photo by John Rawlston.

TUBMAN BIDDERS

* Environmental Abatement Inc., Nashville: $4.3 million

* Thomas Brothers Construction, Chattanooga: $6.9 million

* Dore & Associates, Michigan: $7 million

Source: Chattanooga

A project to tear down all 440 apartments at Chattanooga's former Harriet Tubman public housing site to make way for a new industrial site is set to begin in September.

On Thursday, city officials unsealed three contractor bids that ranged from nearly $4.3 million to $7 million. Mayor Andy Berke's office budgeted $4 million this year for the work.

Nick Wilkinson, deputy director of the economic and community development department, said the city hopes to offset some of the costs through state and federal grants. He said officials are considering whether to apply to the EPA revolving loan fund, which would be interest free.

Because of recent changes to the city's purchasing manual, officials aren't required to go with the lowest bidder. City spokeswoman Lacie Stone said the bids will be evaluated and the city's choice presented to the City Council by July 31.

Wilkinson said the city will be looking at the bidders' capacity to hire new workers, in line with plans to bring jobs to East Chattanooga.

The bid required that 80 percent of the contractor's locally hired workforce must come from the 37406 ZIP code, a large area that stops at Memorial Hospital then includes near Chattanooga State Community College and portions of Tunnel Boulevard and Bonny Oaks Drive.

After the contractor is chosen, the city plans to host a job fair in mid-August.

One community leader questions how broad the ZIP code requirement is and whether the jobs will actually go to benefit the pockets of East Chattanoogans, the area where the unemployment rates are the highest in the city.

"A lot of people are assuming the ones [living] right there are the ones in line first for the jobs," said Cynthia Stanley-Cash, president of the North Brainerd Neighborhood Association. "It's a lot of fluffy talk."

Stanley-Cash said at the first community meeting she learned that the contractor the city chooses will have specific qualification requirements, which could include up to a year's experience at a construction job. That could further hinder those who need the work the most from getting the jobs, she said.

Wilkinson said there should be a range of opportunities for workers with different skill sets.

The city's initial timeline called for completing the demolition by the end of 2014, but Wilkinson said the city is now eyeing a deadline of March 31, 2015.

Meanwhile as the demolition project is going on -- work that includes tearing down the buildings and removing the playgrounds and parking lots on the 36-acre tract -- the city also will be examining a new road plan that would create a more direct route to the site.

Now, the streets around the site are narrow and the railroad tracks block direct access to Amnicola Highway. But city officials said the community will be a part of any road projects to ensure they don't adversely affect the nearby neighborhoods.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press Since 2009, she's covered breaking news, high-profile trials, stories of lost lives and of regained hope and done investigative work. Raised near the Bayou, Joy’s hometown is along the outskirts of Baton Rouge, La. She has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Louisiana State University. While at LSU, Joy was a staff writer for the Daily Reveille. When Joy isn't chasing ...

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