Whitesburg KY

Court divided on whether to hire local architect firm to plan recreation center

The Letcher Fiscal Court has narrowed its search for an architect to design a proposed new recreation center in Whitesburg to two — one local and one out-of-county.

Richardson Associates of Whitesburg and Summit Engineering of Pikeville are the two firms now competing for a contract to design the recreation center, which is expected to cost about $6 million. A third firm, Kenar Architectural of Frankfort, was removed from consideration during a special meeting on December 5.

The court also took action during the meeting to fill a third vacancy on the Letcher County Water and Sewer Commission and to award a bid for the preparation of Christmas gift baskets for county employees.

To narrow the list of architects, the court used the results of a point tabulation system. The points were assigned by court members after they evaluated proposals from Summit, Richardson Associates, and Kenar. Summit and Richardson Associates had the two highest scores, with Summit getting 449 and Richardson receiving 404.

Court members were divided, however, on the question of which firm will design the best recreation center, which will be located near Dairy Queen in the old A&P food store building.

District One Magistrate Bob Lewis and District Three Magistrate Codell Gibson said Richardson Associates scored the highest total of points on their lists. District Five Magistrate Wayne Fleming explained that he didn’t award any points to any of the three companies because he doesn’t believe the county can afford to build the recreation center. When District Two Magistrate Archie Banks made a motion to award the contract to Summit as the firm with the highest point total, District Four Magistrate Keith Adams seconded. That motion then failed on a tie vote, with Fleming, Gibson and Lewis voting no and Banks, Adams and Judge/Executive Jim Ward voting to award the contract to Summit.

Lewis, a former Letcher County school board member, said he has worked with Bill Richardson before on school board projects and found Richardson to be a quality architect who is easy to work with. Gibson said all three proposals were excellent, and that he likes Richardson’s work and believes it is important to support local businesses whenever possible.

Gibson also asked whether the court could negotiate the architect’s fee. Judge Ward said the advertisement calling for the bids did not call for the inclusion of fees, which in this case are regulated by state law as a percentage of the construction cost.

County Attorney Bolling told the court that he believes fee packages should be included in every advertisement for bids the county publishes. He said the court has gotten away from this practice, but if a fee is to be part of the process of choosing a contractor, then the fee should be included in the package and not negotiated later.

“I’ve pointed this out before,” said Bolling. “If the fee structure is to be part of the bid package, we should include it in the ad.”

Banks pointed out that the fee structure had not been part of the original ad and asked if the court would have to go back and rerun the ads and begin the entire process again.

Bolling said that if all other parts of the bid packages were sound, the court can now negotiate fees with the two architects who received the highest point totals. He said the difference in fees could possibly make the difference in who is awarded the contract, and that it was the kind of information the court would need to consider. Bolling said the court can ask for the fee schedules in a new bid package or through negotiation.

“You can do it either way,” said Bolling. “But you need two. The court can then decide on what’s in the best interest of the county. You can include the fee structure or assign points to the fees.”

Magistrate Lewis then introduced a motion to have the court reconsider the two top point totals with fee schedules included at the next court meeting. The vote was 5-0, with Fleming abstaining. Ward asked Richardson and representatives from Summit if they believed they could have a fee schedule ready by the regular court meeting on December 15 and they said they could. A committee of Judge Ward, and Magistrates Banks and Gibson was appointed to re-score the packets with fee schedules included.

Magistrate Fleming declined to participate on the committee because he opposes the project and said that he hadn’t voted against anyone but voted no because of his general opposition to the project.

Richardson said there is a state-recommended fee schedule for working with municipal entities and another for working with schools.

In other business, the court approved a resolution asking the Kentucky Public Service Commission (PSC) to appoint Richard Carter of Eolia to the Water and Sewer District Board of Directors. Carter joins Phillip “Pee Wee” Back and Billy Stamper as court-approved appointees to the commission who are awaiting appointment by the PSC to positions left vacant by resignation and term limits. Magistrate Lewis said he knows Carter and believes he will be an excellent addition to the board.

The court also voted to accept a bid from Dry Fork Market for the preparation of Christmas gift baskets for county employees.

Judge Ward delivered the ominous news that both hazardous duty retirement expenses and regular retirement for county employees could increase dramatically in the coming year. Ward told court members he had been informed that the county’s costs could go up as much as $12,880 per month for retirement expenses and $3,400 for hazardous duty retirement.

Ward said that only five jail employees and the Letcher County Sherriff’s Department had hazardous duty retirement, and that the increases were only a projection at this time.

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