County discusses details of planning process for new jail

Published 3:00 am Friday, July 14, 2017

Members of the Pike County Commission along with other county officials sat down with representatives of TCU Consulting Services on Thursday to discuss planning the construction of a new jail.

TCU owners Ken Upchurch and Percy Thomas explained in detail what services could be provided to the county and got input on services the county definitively wanted included in the initial planning phase.

“We see this as a three-phase opportunity,” Upchurch said. “You may want all three or you may only want the first phase – we don’t know yet at this point. At the end of each phase you can decide whether you want to go forward prior to the next phase. What we need to do is define the list of services and the deliverable expectations. In other words, we need to understand what you want for those rendered services.”

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Russell Johnson, head of the jail committee, explained that the purpose of the meeting was to have a dialogue that will lead to the consulting service nailing down a fee so it can be presented to the full commission.

“We have got to have an open dialogue with TCU,” Johnson said. “We’ve asked them to provide us with a cost proposal for designing a program for the county. Now we have to have a dialogue about the level of services and timeframe for the work.”

Upchurch said the general timeframe to complete the “master plan” would likely be one to three months. The main concern, he said, is that the firm knows as much of the county’s expectations beforehand as possible so the firm doesn’t under-deliver.

“I’d say that the goal is to most effectively come up with and execute a strategy for your jail study,” Upchurch said. “The question is how do you best develop a program that meets those parameters and gives you the best for what you have available, not just for the construction costs but for the operation costs as well.”

Johnson said that operating costs are the biggest obstacle to the jail construction because the county has to plan for what it can afford to operate, not what it can afford to build. “We’ve talked about the concerns about having a finite operating budget,” Johnson said.

When asked about the state bill authorizing a $35 additional court cost fee for civil and criminal cases in the county, Johnson said it was one of the only ways the commission could find to generate extra revenue for the operating budget.

“The court cost bill is the card we were dealt,” Johnson said. “We have no additional funding. That’s why it’s so critical that we plan what we make operational in this building on a budget we can plan on. We only have a fixed operating budget that we can plan on. If we let it get out of hand, we’ll bankrupt this county in five to six years.”

One way that was proposed as an option to be presented in the study is making the jail a “justice center” that could house other county offices and services, such as the courtrooms.

“I think the consensus is what we are asking for is not going to be just a four-wall jail but a justice center that has the courtrooms and the jail,” Johnson said. “Some of the goals achieved by that would be the consolidation of other county properties and potentially moving the county commission to the existing courthouse, possibly selling off other properties.”

Johnson also requested the study to show what operations might be implemented on day one and what options may have to be phased in over time.

Chad Copeland, District 4 commissioner, said he hopes the study can help communications and find the county extra savings. “We want to look at all these options because the goal is the way to save costs,” Copeland said.

Larry Wilke, a resident in attendance, asked whether the feasibility study was required and questioned whether the study allows the commission to shift the blame elsewhere if something goes wrong.

Johnson said the feasibility study is not required, but is a “personal requirement” for the commissioners to have the highest level of transparency and independence.

“This is something we need to do before we spend taxpayer money,” Johnson said. “We want to build a professional structure in a way that is the most effective and cost-efficient … We’re trying to pinpoint all the problems before brick and mortar is put up.”

Upchurch explained his view on why a third party is necessary in the planning portion of the project.

“What you need is someone that wakes up every day thinking about only your interests,” Upchurch said. “What you need is someone that gives you the outside look but doesn’t have that inside track. Most architects would much prefer to work on the other side of fence then on planning side if they’re precluded (from being awarded the design job). Someone’s got to make a decision though to whether they want a piece of the puzzle or take a chance on getting design services. We don’t work on any of our projects, period. The end.

Copeland said that having a third party set the plan is not a way to reroute blame, but a way to make sure everything is done right.

“We’re going to do our homework because we know we’re not smart enough to look at all the details,” Copeland said. “We’re making sure we’re doing this right.”

In addition to analyzing data and crunching numbers on operating and construction costs, Upchurch said TCU also could manage public hearings on the project moving forward if the commission desires.

“Phase 2” of the project, Upchurch said, deals with selecting a designer.

“We prefer to do a process that takes subjectivity out and puts it into more objective decisions,” Upchurch said.

That process is to set up a committee with one or two members of the governing body, one or two users of the facility and another one or two outside parties with experience hiring architects.

A solicitation would then be sent out to companies for them to answer and send back to the committee, which would then narrow the group down to three or four companies to come in for an interview.

One of the major issues, Upchurch said, is getting architects to agree to a design schedule in conjunction with the master plan created in phase one to control costs.

“Inevitably, the design process gets extended – either the owner changes their mind or makes budget decisions – so the design period stretches out and the construction period shortens up, which means contractors have to work faster,” Upchurch said. “Once the schedule slips or slides, it’s going to cost you more money. Part of our contract ties them to the master schedule and then they go into design with multiple checkpoints on design and budget.”

“Phase three” would involve managing the actual construction of the facility, tying in the contractors and architects with the county via TCU.

However, Upchurch said the commission can pause at the end of phase one and phase two and decide whether TCU is still needed on the project or whether the county has sufficient internal resources to handle the project from that point.

Johnson said that the commissioners individually will make any suggestions they have and submit them to TCU by Wednesday so that the company can finalize a fee that can be presented to the full commission at their next meeting Monday, July 24.

Present at the meeting were commissioners Russell Johnson, Charlie Harris, Jimmy Barron, Homer Wright and Chad Copeland, Sheriff Russell Thomas and county attorney Allen Jones. Several members of the public also attended.