Originally created 03/02/05

Repairs at jail will be costly

Augusta commissioners received some unwelcome news Tuesday.

It will cost $26.9 million to renovate the Law Enforcement Center on Walton Way to make it habitable for 20 years and $50 million to replace it, according to a recent study of the facility.

But those won't be the complete costs of either option, said Bob Munger, an architect with Heery International Inc., the city's program manager for sales-tax projects.

"Either way you go, there are going to be some short-term costs that need to be expended," he said. "The bottom line is it's going to take a lot to get the building in shape."

Despite assumptions ahead of time by many that the building is a total waste, Mr. Munger said he does not necessarily agree.

"We think it will take $27 million to do it," he said. "That's a big number, but the number to build a replacement facility is quite a bit larger. We're looking in the neighborhood of $50 million to replace it."

Looking at a 20-year life cycle comparison - which factors in other costs besides capital costs, such as the cost of operating the renovated building, energy use and staff requirements - the difference between a new facility and a renovated one decreases to $10.5 million, Mr. Munger said.

Renovation would be done in four phases, beginning with building a new, long-term 40,000 square-foot administrative building at the current site next to Walton Way. It would be used to relocate employees who have suffered from poor indoor air quality and provide space for long-term expansion of the sheriff's office and jail administration.

The projected date for completing the four phases is May 2009.

A replacement facility would have all of the same functions and same square footage as the renovated center and would cost about $230 a square foot, the report said.

The cost of buying land for a new facility, demolishing the current one or bond debt payments have not been calculated.

"Both renovation and replacement scenarios will incur some near-term, urgent repair and stabilization costs," the report said.

After receiving the report, city Administrator Fred Russell said that in light of the city's plan to build a new judicial center and considering the cost of operating the Walton Way jail compared with operating the jail on Phinizy Road, he would have a problem with doing anything other than short-term repairs.

Engineering Services Chair-man Andy Cheek was dissatisfied that commissioners did not receive a recommendation and a dollar amount of what could be done immediately.

"The bottom line is we're no further along with a list of repairs and recommendations than we were a month ago," he said. "I want to hear, 'Keep it. Chunk it. Make repairs.' We don't need to spend another month studying this. I need to know today. Do we keep the building? What do we do the next three years?"

Commission delay increases the potential of lawsuits from employees affected by the heavy mold counts throughout the building, he said.

Facilities Manager Rick Acree said the path forward is determined by the commission's long-term goals.

Commissioner Willie Mays said the problem he keeps running into is the cost of a short-term fix relative to what will be gained from it.

He proposed dedicating a day with all stakeholders present to receive input and get questions answered.

"That is the first thing that needs to be done," he said. "We can't adequately start talking about sales tax (special purpose local option sales tax 5) until we get this done."

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

What's next:

Commissioners will meet with judicial and sheriff's officials and others who have a stake in the joint law enforcement center within a week to 10 days. The meeting will address the problems of the center and what can be done to fix them.


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