courthouse

An artist rendering shows what the front of the county’s new courthouse could look like, with the exception of the plaza area. JPA President Michael Thomas said that the plaza design has not been finalized.

The addition of a parking garage and a second jail pod have put the total cost for phase I of the Gallatin courthouse and justice system mega-project to $91M. 

Included are fees for the courthouse, a $2M contingency budget and $1,302, 470 for transitional spaces. Expenses for new projects totaled $11,252,470.

Justice Planning Associates, a South Carolina-based consulting firm hired to undertake the project in 2018, presented this information about the project’s progress at a joint general operations and budget committee meeting on Sept. 9. 

The general operations committee voted to approve the project by vote of 6 – 1.  The motion to fund phase I also passed by the same tally in the budget committee. It will have a second reading at October’s budget meeting and go to the full commission for approval at the Oct. 21 meeting. JPA President Michael Thomas will give the presentation again at that time. 

The phase total was $80,450,000 prior to the additions, as of March. Phase II, which includes demolition of the probation building, renovation of the historic courthouse, renovation of the criminal justice center for the sheriff’s office and jail expansion to the sheriff’s former location, was projected to cost $18.1M at that time. A contingency budget of $3,450,000 put the whole project’s then-price tag at $102,000,000. 

If plans and funding are approved in October, the whole project could cost over $109,100,000.  This includes the projected $18.1M total for phase II. A sum of $5.7M has already been approved.

Phase II planning and funding will be solidified in the future and will go through the same process. 

Two jail pods

One jail pod was already included and was intended to house 64 female inmates in low security, dormitory housing. It was projected to cost $2M. Two will cost $5M and house 128 inmates.

“When we came up with our original strategic plan back in 2017, we had proposed getting some immediate relief for the jail,” Thomas said. 

As of late, the jail has been consistently overcrowded. It has a capacity of 832 beds and Sumner County Sheriff Sonny Weatherford has confirmed on a few weekends the count has reached 900 inmates.

It was decided that one pod was not enough after a meeting with JPA, general operations and the project chairman Leslie Schell, the Sheriff’s Department and the Tennessee Corrections Unit.

“Lately, the sheriff’s needs have shifted a bit so we had that meeting and were talking about it and to build that one pod, it would be zoned in three separate ways -  juvenile male, juvenile female and then a female,” Schell said. 

In light of the required separation for juveniles that are tried as adults, they realized that bed space was lost and they asked newly hired construction manager at risk, Turner Construction to rework the design. 

The new design includes a two story control room that can serve as possible expansion for another two pods, according to Thomas. According to Schell the design can also eliminate the need for additional staffing. 

Parking garage

The parking garage was discussed in the March commission meeting’s presentation but unofficially. It was then projected to be no less than 400 spots, at $20,000 a parking spot. This totaled $8M. 

The new budgeted cost is $9,450,000, which includes the construction and design of 450 spots. 

“We don’t know until we get a design of that exactly what will design to the lay of the land,” Schell said and clarified that there is no set number of spaces. 

It will be placed in the parking lot behind the Gallatin Public Library. This area is owned by the county. The county does not own the spaces that belong to nearby offices and according to Schell, any negotiations or communication is dependent on whether the resolutions pass full commission. 

Construction of the garage was expedited in light of a partnership with the city of Gallatin. In a June article in the Hendersonville Standard, the city’s leaders verbally agreed to a partnership and expressed their concern about the displacement caused by lack of parking. The financial contribution of each is unknown at this time.

Thomas plans to start the design of the garage in November. He estimated that it would take nine months to design and another nine months to construct. He surmised construction would begin between September or October of 2020, at the same time as site work for the courthouse. The garage could be completed in June 2021.

Funding

The jail’s overcrowding and the potential partnership with Gallatin to build the garage have garnered swift action. For this reason, these things were also adjusted as part of the county’s 2019-2020 fiscal year budget by four cents. The budget was passed and it was decided that taxes should be raised. 

“We raised taxes four cents,” Commissioner Larry Hinton said. “We justified doing that for the jail, now we find that four cents actually won’t pay for that.”

Commissioner Jerry Becker expressed concern that space for the jail pod was planned to double before the start of the project. He similarly asked if extra money collected for this through the tax raise was factored in. 

Budget chairman Chris Taylor responded affirmatively and stated that four cents was never enough. Funding will come from the debt services reserve and Taylor later said he has contacted state authorities to convert the money into capital funding to avoid issuing a bond. 

“It’s money that we have but we’ve never wanted to tap into only because that fund is supported by a lot of very flexible revenue streams,” he said. 

As the project currently stands, Thomas said they are near the end of the schematic design phase, and entering the design development phase. Thomas also showed a professional artist rendering of what the building would look like and an aerial drawing of the building’s placement. 

He noted that the front plaza is not fully developed and Commissioner Moe Taylor voiced citizen concern that those who have not yet been convicted and would come through the front door, could be milling around the library. 

Hinton asked about whether transported convicts would be visible to the public. Thomas responded that convicts are unloaded in the building’s garage and maneuvered through the courthouse’s basement. 

Hinton also requested information about traffic flow around the library. The JPA President responded that there is currently 20 ft. between buildings and the area should continue to allow for traffic.  

The firm hopes to have a general contractor for the transitional spaces under contract by October, but will not sign until funding is approved.

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