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Inmate labor debate stalls courthouse renovations

By Jim Conrad, jconrad@wcyb.com
Published On: Feb 18 2014 04:42:32 PM CST
Updated On: Feb 18 2014 11:00:00 PM CST

A seven-month delay in renovation of the second floor of the Washington County Tennessee courthouse could be delayed further.

JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. -

A project in downtown Joneborough, Tennessee has been on hold for seven months.

Second floor renovations to the old Washington County, Tennessee courthouse were first introduced in October of 2012. The goal was to house the county offices and give the county archives a place to call home.

The 100-year-old Washington County, Tennessee courthouse became available for office space with the construction of a new justice center in 2009. In the fall of 2012, an idea was introduced to renovate the second floor for county offices, and the county's valuable archives, now stored all over town, would have a home where the offices are now located.

"When the county commission agreed to create the Washington County archives, we had to find a place for it. The facility known as the Washington County office building was the logical choice," says county mayor Dan Eldridge.

It sounded like a good idea, and work began to renovate the courthouse. Phase 1 was completed, but some issues arose, causing a delay and further review by the county-owned property committee. "After seven months of review, it has come back and made one recommendation -- that is to bring in a general contractor and not utilize the inmate labor, which is how the project was approved," Eldridge said.

"Had we got his project over at the courthouse finished on a timely manner we would have had our archives already set up in this building. The mayor, bookkeeping, and everybody could have moved into the new office space in the courthouse," county commissioner Pat Wolfe added.

Without the inmate labor, an additional $100,000 would be added on to the $220,000 allocated to finish it.

"Do we go forward and complete the project as it was originally approved, utilizing and taking advantage of inmate labor, or will the county commission make the decision to spend an additional $100,000 to bring in a general contractor?" Eldridge asked.

It's a hotly-debated issue that will be addressed at the full commission meeting next week.