County officials feel good that storm shelters in three local communities will be completed by early next year, as the state gave the go ahead to pay $7,500 extra per site to the contractor, who …
County officials feel good that storm shelters in three local communities will be completed by early next year, as the state gave the go ahead to pay $7,500 extra per site to the contractor, who cited increased costs.
At Monday's Walker County Commission meeting, Walker County Emergency Regina Myers said the projects to put storm shelters in Oakman, Townley and Pineywoods have been progressing.
Myers said after a year of working with Brent Mitchell of Safe-T-Shelter in Hartselle, "we finally got concrete work started on one of the sites." She said the work was going on first at the Townley Community Center, then in Oakman and Pineywoods, as they started at the farthest point.
Although she had a medical emergency in her family, Walker County E-911 Director Tim Thomas went to the site and conferred with the work crew.
Thomas said the foundation was dug, although plans to pour on Friday were delayed due to rains. They were hoping to move on to the next site early this week.
He said 30 days after the concrete had settled, the shelter structure would be brought in.
"Hopefully by January or the first of February, we'll have structures," he said.
District 1 Commissioner Keith Davis said he knew the communities would be happy to see that, adding that the delay was no fault of Myers and Thomas. He said the contractor had been slow with the work.
Chairman Jerry Bishop said he appreciated Myers, Thomas and County Engineer Mike Short for continuing to work hard on the project, as well as all the commissioners.
After the meeting, Myers said the concrete crew is a subcontractor to Safe-T-Shelter. She said crews are "working against the rain and the cold," and that the crew started in Townley on Wednesday.
"Everything is going good. We've made progress and we're moving forward," she said. "We're proud the citizens are going to get their shelters. That's what we're fighting for are the citizens in those communities."
The project has been mired in a number of problems and delays since it started in 2013. Lee Helms, a former state Alabama Emergency Management Agency (EMA) director who now owns Lee Helms Associates in Clanton, said in August he is the project manager and helped write the grant for the Federal Emergency Management Agency hazardous mitigation project.
Helms noted the initial delays in the project, including rains and illness in the staff at Safe-T-Shelter. More delays were created by the death of then-Walker County E-911 Director Roger Wilson in July 2017, as Wilson was in charge of shelter projects for the county. That responsibility was later shifted to Myers, with help from Short.
Wilson's death has led to confusion concerning missing paperwork that has made it difficult for officials to find what was agreed upon.
Officials said a shelter can go up in a month. However, county officials were recently frustrated that the dirt pads were ready for concrete pads and shelters, but officials did not hear from Safe-T-Shelter. Helms also had to ask for several periods of extension, he said, so that available funds from FEMA and the state EMA can be kept.
Referring to the price of materials such as steel and concrete, Mitchell "tells me he needs about $10,000 a site extra," Helms said in August, making the total increase $30,000. He added Mitchell "is not budging because he is going lose money on the project. I said, 'Yes, but you bid that project.' But he is wanting to get some help from local government to cover the increased cost from the time he was awarded that contract to now."
County attorney Eddie Jackson said on Tuesday that on Oct. 5 he, Myers, Thomas, Bishop, Short and Mitchell met on the situation. Jackson, Myers and Bishop later said Mitchell made a good argument that costs had increased since the project started in 2013.
"I don't think it was his fault (the project) was not finished," Jackson said, pointing to problems along the way. He added the increased costs, including those on steel, were "legitimate." Jackson said the county probably couldn't have afforded for the project to be rebid.
The participants in the meeting were able to negotiate the price down to $7,500 per site, for a total cost of $22,500, he said.
Jackson said that according to his notes of the meeting, the officials checked with state officials, who were fine with the county paying the increased costs under the bidding process due to the circumstances.
Bishop said he had the informal approval of other county commissioners, and that he also gave his blessing.