Courthouse still awaits next step

Work on the historic Loudon County Courthouse in downtown Loudon remains unfinished since an April 2019 fire.

Work on the historic Loudon County Courthouse is entering nearly three years since the structure burned in April 2019.

Renovations stalled for various reasons, county officials say.

“For the last 10 months it’s really been insurance just doing what insurance does I guess,” Rollen “Buddy” Bradshaw, Loudon County mayor, said. “Me speculating, of course when COVID hit all the prices for any kind of construction went sky high and now it’s coming back now. That may have not had anything to do with it; that may have had something to do with it.

“But insurance has went through it all with a fine-tooth comb, everything from the overall cost down to there was some discussion about what was age-related damage versus fire damage and then they also met with Loudon city codes department as well because to bring everything up code is part of our insurance policy, too,” he added. “So the last months that’s been the big hang-up.”

The project was broken into phases, with phase one, which was focused on stabilization, already complete.

Traveler’s Insurance earlier this month questioned a price estimate thought too high from contractor Johnson & Galyon and has since proposed bringing in its own contractor, Miner & East Inc., of Illinois, which gave an estimate $368,530 cheaper.

Loudon County Purchasing Agent Susan Huskey said Miner & East claimed the project should cost $2.99 million, while Johnson & Galyon initially proposed $3.36 million.

“But it’s missing elements that Johnson & Galyon has included such as builder’s risk insurance and some other items,” Huskey said. “It’s kind of comparing apples to oranges, but if you add into the other contractor the things that Johnson & Galyon included, which are some codes requirement, Johnson & Galyon would actually be cheaper when all is said and done. The lower cost estimate is missing some key elements.”

Huskey said Miner & East’s estimate doesn’t include repairs required by code, plans review and permit fees, builder’s risk insurance, general liability insurance and performance/payment bond.

Brewer Ingram Fuller Architects Inc., has recommended Traveler’s, the architect and the two contractors meet to resolve the price discrepancy, Huskey said.

Johnson & Galyon was given a list of items to remove and consider alternate so their quote will be more “apples to apples.” After those changes Dec. 23, the estimate was $141 cheaper than Miner & East.

“I would like to note that Miner & East was given the opportunity to revise their quote after our meeting in August with city codes and I have been waiting on their revised quote but apparently they have chosen not to present a revised proposal, which would have increased their original cost estimate, too,” Huskey said in an email correspondence. “I will verify with the insurance adjuster who was responsible for bringing Miner & East onsite back in late January as to why M&E did not revised their proposal to allow consideration for the city codes requirements and required fees, which would have increased their cost as well. ... It appears the insurance adjuster will need to reconsider the additional cost for the city codes requirements plus other fees required for the next phase of restoration on the courthouse.”

Huskey said Traveler’s has agreed to only pay the lower amount. She said August was the last time anyone was on the property.

If awarded the contract, Huskey said Miner & East could begin work in January and finish by 2024. She believes Johnson & Galyon would work under the same timetable.

“First thing they’ll be focused on is repair of the shell and masonry,” Huskey said. “That has to be completed before they can move into the interior repair.”

The total paid to date on the project is $3.16 million, which Huskey said includes all expenses such as rent for temporary spaces, emergency relocation cost, architect and construction. Of that amount, $1.91 million has been paid to Johnson & Galyon for construction services.

Bradshaw said he understands some county residents are frustrated with delays in the project, but he emphasizes the county has been at the mercy of outside forces.

“We had a perfect storm,” Bradshaw said. “I mean there were countless days where we couldn’t even get equipment on site trying to get it stabilized, and then some hiccups. The architectural firm didn’t know if they were going to do phase two so there was a little bit of a delay there. COVID was massive — you’re talking about the architectural firm, everything in Knoxville closed down. It’s been a perfect storm of speed bumps I guess, to say the least. We were able to save and we’re going to get it back right. We’re going to get it back at a very minimal cost if any to the taxpayer. We could have very easily knocked it down and probably been in a new one right now but I think the consensus was to save the historic.

“Refurbishing, you ask any contractor it’s a whole lot easier to build new than it is to redo, and so believe me nobody’s more frustrated than me and the folks in this building that have worked on it,” he added. “This is a multimillion dollar project and, of course, insurance has the checkbook and I think if I was cutting the checks they’re cutting I’d probably a little bit cautious, too.”

Huskey agreed with Bradshaw.

“It’s just like the mayor said, it’s been the perfect storm, one issue right after another,” Huskey said.