JASPER, Tenn. — The first phase of a proposed career and technical center in Marion County is just days from becoming a reality after four long years.
The County Commission voted 14-1 on Monday to allow County Mayor John Graham to sign a construction contract with the builder when all the funding agencies have approved the bid package.
"The reason I'm asking for this approval is that the final decision by the loan agencies could come any day," Graham told commissioners. "I'd really like to get this process moving forward, so we don't have to wait another month or have a called meeting. I definitely do not want to wait another month."
County Attorney Billy Gouger said eight bids to construct the first building were submitted, but four were disqualified immediately because they didn't include some necessary paperwork.
Chazler Inc. in Chattanooga was the low bidder by about $28,000, he said.
"It was very competitive and very close," Gouger said. "Fortunately for the county, the bid price and contract price was below the money the county had allocated for this project."
Officials did not say what the lowest total bid price was, but the project was estimated to cost $1.5 million.
Commissioner Jane Dawkins, who also is chairwoman of the board's Education Committee, cast the lone "no" vote. She said she is concerned that the county is being forced to accept the lowest bidder.
"We have no say in who's going to build this building," she said. "I am not comfortable with that at all."
The county is seeking two grants for the project and both require it to accept the lowest bid, Gouger said.
Dawkins said Education Committee members discussed having the bidders formerly reviewed by the entire board.
The difference in the two lowest bidders was the pricing on the removal of "bad dirt," she said.
"That concerns me because that may not even have to happen," Dawkins said. "We did soil samples before we even went through the process."
Even if the soil removal becomes an issue, Gouger said Chazler would still be the lowest bidder.
"Any way you analyze this, this company is the lowest bidder," he said.
If the county doesn't use the low bidder, it will forfeit the grant money, he said.
That doesn't leave much choice, Graham added.
"If we don't, we lose the grants, and the process would have to start over."
Commissioner Tommy Thompson said Chazler is a reputable company and he wants construction to begin as soon as possible.
"I know some [commissioners] would like to see another contractor get it, but we have drug this thing along for four years and the situation with the grants has been explained," he said. "If we drag around here some more, we're going to mess up our grants, and the college is going to fool around and not get built."
Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at ryan firstname.lastname@example.org.