The Hamilton County Commission reversed course Wednesday morning, awarding a $20 million contract for improvements to the Silverdale Correctional Facility to a local developer.
After lengthy discussion last week, commissioners voted against awarding the phase one contract to Chattanooga's KTM Builders LLC, citing concerns about the commercial developer's lack of experience with correctional facilities and projects of this size. Then, some commissioners who voted against the contract last week had a change of heart.
"I feel like the whole COVID-19 situation and us not having the ability to meet in person right now has kind of put them at a disadvantage," Commissioner Sabrena Smedley said after the developers were not invited to participate in remote discussion about the development last week.
"I'm convinced that we should give them an opportunity to do this job," she said. "They do have a lot of experience. Their subcontractors have a lot of experience."
Commissioner Chester Bankston, who previously opposed the contract, brought the resolution back to commission Wednesday for reconsideration. With little discussion, the group voted 7-2 to award the bid to KTM.
"I have talked with [the developers] and I feel like they are qualified to do the job, and I just felt like I needed to bring it back up for reconsideration," he explained.
Citing decades of experience in construction, Commissioner Tim Boyd cautioned his colleagues against using KTM.
"It doesn't change the fact that this particular contractor has never completed a job over $3 million, they're at 38 jobs over the last three years, 19 of which have been Hobby Lobby, and their average job is $1.5 million," Boyd said. "And we're going to risk the county's money on a contractor who's not got a proven record on any institutional jobs. And institutional jobs are technically some of the toughest jobs out there."
"There is no information that I'm aware of to prove that they're capable or even able to perform properly on this job."
Last week, Boyd led the charge against hiring KTM, citing documents provided by the company that show the significantly smaller scope of even their largest projects.
Sheriff Jim Hammond, whose office is assuming control of the jail in question, said Wednesday that he has confidence in the chosen developer's ability to do the job.
"Even as Commissioner Boyd did mention they don't have a track record of huge projects, I have worked with huge contractors who messed up, too," Hammond said. "One of the things I feel most confident about is I'm bringing boots on the grounds to oversee what they're doing on a day-to-day basis."
"I'm very comfortable with this vendor being selected," he said.
The project, approved by the commission in 2017, will put just over $20 million into improvements at the Silverdale facility, just as the county begins to assume control of it and close its other jail in downtown Chattanooga.
Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.