Savannah-based construction company J.T. Turner was unanimously approved by city council Tuesday night as the preferred builder for the new 26,000 square-foot Richmond Hill Conference Center, bringing the project one step closer to reality.
City Manager Mike Melton said the next step is to negotiate a "guaranteed maximum price contract" with J.T. Turner Construction Co., Inc.
Melton said if the price the city sets is rejected by Turner the project will be offered to the next runner up – Lavender and Associates. He said the process is a bit more complicated than the common practice of giving a project to the lowest bidder. But Melton said construction agreements are different when a municipality is involved and this method is recommended by the state.
He also said when the maximum price is set, it will be set so the contractor will not be allowed to receive any funds above that amount.
Officials haven’t given a price tag, calling it premature. But Richmond Hill developer Gene Brogdon, a critic of the center and its location at J.F. Gregory Park, earlier estimated the cost will be around $5 million. That’s in line with earlier estimates given in 2005 when the project, which then included an aquatic center, was first announced.
Melton said once a contract has been signed, the matter will appear again before council for final approval.
Hired consultant Kirby Glaze said six contractors were strongly considered and Turner seemed to be the most qualified.
To help fund the project, city Finance Director Bob Whitmarsh said the city is using two funding sources. One is allocated SPLOST money from a referendum that passed in September 2005. The other is two percent of the local hotel/motel tax which is accruing into a special account. Whitmarsh estimates these funds to average around $13,000 to $16,000 per month.
Whitmarsh said that, when they get a solid figure on the cost of this project, city officials will address how much to borrow, finance and how much is in-house in order to complete this project.
In other business:
- Mayor Richard Davis addressed former councilman Harold Fowler's letter to the editor Fowler wrote to the Bryan County News last week about the finances behind the Conference Center project. Davis called Fowler’s letter "full of misinformation" and a political move. Davis said he heard Fowler would be running for mayor and also said Fowler, as a councilman, had been involved with some of the initial planning of the center.
City councilman and Mayor Pro Tem Floyd Hilliard also addressed the conference center.
"We’re fixing to go into the financial phase and we’re going to be talking finances," Hilliard said. "That will offer real answers to a lot of the misinformation that’s out there and people are invited to come to these council meetings and get these figures firsthand from people who will know what the Conference Center is going to cost, what it’s going to take to run it and what it’s going to do for this city rather than take the little bit of information they hear and run with it."