'Complicated issues' tie up big-ticket plans, administrator reports

Rome wasn't built in a day, and some of Augusta's big-ticket sales-tax projects won't be, either.


Seven years after Augusta commissioners first spoke about building a judicial center and voters approved spending $60 million in two special-purpose sales-tax referenda, no dirt has been turned.

It took commissioners four years to settle on a site. The one chosen in 2003 at James Brown Boulevard and Walker Street was later shifted to a two-block area between Walton Way and Fenwick Street.

That was three years ago. Since then, city officials have been acquiring property and waiting for the sales-tax money to come in the second quarter of 2009.

Meanwhile, the initial budget was reduced from $80 million to $60 million, which means the building must be redesigned. And all the while, costs have escalated.

While progress on the judicial center and other buildings seems slow, starting projects is more complicated than it looks, Augusta Administrator Fred Russell says.

"Getting the money is the easy part," he said. "The hard part is translating that money to bricks and mortar on the ground."

For example, when the dollars to build the judicial center start coming in, the property and redesign should be ready so construction can begin.

Mr. Russell explained that the property must be acquired, environmental issues dealt with, demolition accomplished and new project designs drawn - all as the money comes in, "so you don't have projects laying on the ground."

Similarly, the new main library, to be built at Ninth and Telfair streets, has been delayed by property acquisition problems and environmental issues.

"In addition to that, you throw into the library the lawsuit that slowed us down for a while," Mr. Russell said. "That's a complicated issue."

Meanwhile, the addition to the Webster Detention Center is going along fairly well, he said, but it's not as though somebody hands over the money one day and you turn the key the next.

"There are complex issues to building a $36 million jail addition," he said.

One project that has stalled is the proposed $22 million trade and exhibit center, which two studies have determined should be on property belonging to Augusta Riverfront LLC on Reynolds Street adjacent to the convention center and Augusta Marriott Hotel & Suites.

Augusta commissioners and Augusta Riverfront cannot come to terms on an operating agreement that calls for the city to pay $250,000 in operation funding and $100,000 in capital funding annually - adjusted for the cost of living each year - for the project, referred to as the trade, exhibit and event center, or TEE center.

"We're ready to roll on the Tee center, but we've run into a snag on the location," Mr. Russell said.

"We couldn't work a deal at our preferred location, so now we're back to looking at other locations, which is going to slow it down immensely."

Augusta Riverfront LLC is a subsidiary of Azalea Development Corp., which is headed by William S. Morris III, the chairman and CEO of Morris Communications Co., the parent company of The Augusta Chronicle.

Another dragging project is the renovation of the Municipal Building.

Judge Carlisle Overstreet recently complained to commissioners that every room in the building leaks and it needs attention.

The building needs a new roof, but it's not a simple roofing job, and that's not all that needs to be done, according to Bob Munger of Heery International Inc., the city's consultant for sales-tax projects.

"At first we were just going to do roofing and replacing the sealant joints in all the marble cladding throughout the whole exterior of the building," Mr. Munger said.

When they decided to replace the building's windows, "it increased the work of the architects, and they've taken longer to do the work now," he said.

The work should be ready to go out for bids in two months.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylvia.cooper@augustachronicle.com.



TOTAL PROJECT COST: $60.02 million


STATUS: Environmental assessments complete, and all but three properties have been acquired. Augusta commissioners must now decide whether to continue with the architectural firm of Turner & Associates of Atlanta or start with a new firm.

CONSTRUCTION START: June 24, 2009 (tentative)

MOVE IN: April 19, 2011 (tentative)

HOLDUPS: Voters rejected the 2004 special-purpose sales-tax package and bond referendum; budget reduced from $80 million to $60 million, necessitating a redesign; cost escalation; sales-tax money initially set to begin for this project in the second quarter of 2009.


(Two jail pods are consolidating and moving the medical facilities there)


START DATE: Architect Notice to Proceed, Sept. 19

STATUS: Programming phase completed first week of January; schematic design in progress; security fencing will begin May 1.

CONSTRUCTION: March 5, 2008

MOVE IN: March 16, 2010

HOLDUPS: Lag time between 2005 tax vote and issuance of general obligation bonds. Completion of programming and master planning for future expansions to 2030.



START DATE: Environmental Engineering, March 30

STATUS: Architectural design is about 50 percent complete but is on hold until the city, HUD and the Richmond County Library Board give final approval.


FINAL CLOSEOUT: April 9, 2009

HOLDUPS: Voters rejected a 2004 special-purpose sales-tax package which included the library; a restraining order delayed demolition of the candy factory on the site; asbestos contamination; purchase of a HUD subsidized low-income apartment building and relocation of tenants; purchase of Squeaky Clean gasoline station and adjacent property with environmental concerns, such as underground storage tanks.


TOTAL COST: $20 million

START DATE: Appoint TEE Committee Members, Feb. 8, 2006

STATUS: Schedule will be revised because of delays. Augusta Commissioners did not accept a proposal from Augusta Riverfront LLC, a subsidiary of Azalea Development Corp., to manage the facility at the preferred Reynolds Street site. City officials will look at alternative locations.

CONSTRUCTION: To be determined

MOVE IN: To be determined

HOLDUPS: Two studies to determine the best location for the center; lack of a management agreement


TOTAL COST: $2.5 million

REVISED SCHEDULE: Consultant notice to proceed, June 7, 2006

STATUS: Architectural design about 75 percent complete. Window replacement is now in design and will be ready to go out for bid in two months.

CONSTRUCTION: July 3, 2007

CLOSEOUT: Feb. 4, 2008

HOLDUPS: The scope of the project was expanded; challenges with bringing the roof up to compliance with current building codes.


(Emergency repair of air conditioning)

TOTAL COST: $1 million

STATUS: Will be done on a design-build method and an early award of the chiller so it can be installed around May 10.


CLOSEOUT: Sept. 25

Source: Robert Munger, program manager for Heery International Inc., city consultant for special-purpose sales-tax projects