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The new King George County Sheriff's Office is nearing completion and is now expected to open on July 1.
Deputies will have a spacious 'report room' for filling out paperwork in the new King George County building.
King George Sheriff Steve Dempsey and contractors check out the main floor of the building east of the courthouse.
By CATHY DYSON
Since last spring, King George County Sheriff Steve Dempsey has heard one date after another as to when his department will move into the new three-story brick building off State Route 3.
"April, August, November, January and now July 1," Dempsey said, rattling off completion dates mentioned in the last 14 months. "We'll be there eventually, and I think 'eventually' is finally in sight."
When bids on the project were opened in March 2009, county officials hoped the building might be finished as early as November 2010.
As construction languished, members of the Board of Supervisors periodically asked for an explanation.
"Why is it taking so long?" Supervisor Joe Grzeika wondered on Nov. 1, 2011. "He [the contractor] can't say it was the weather."
County Administrator Travis Quesenberry responded: "He had some weather delays [the previous winter], but he just is not finishing the project on time."
The current plan is for the 52 employees of the Sheriff's Office to move in by July 1. The new center, which cost $7.5 million, will have two floors of office space and training rooms, areas for communications, prisoner detention and evidence-gathering and a basement.
A $500-A-DAY FINE?
The delays in moving detectives, deputies and dispatchers from cramped quarters in their current office to the bigger, more open space of the new center have been frustrating, said Board of Supervisors Chairman Cedell Brooks Jr.
Residents in his district, who drive by the new building in the county's Government Complex, have asked Brooks the same question that Grzeika had: "Why is it taking so long to get done?"
County officials haven't given many answers, except to say it was a problem with the contractor, Southwood Builders of Ashland.
No one will elaborate because the matter was discussed in closed session.
Southwood's president, Tom Evans, said this week that, "There are always problems on projects, but they've all been worked through, as far as we're concerned."
He added: "There are no issues with us and the county."
That doesn't appear to be the county's view. Supervisors met in closed session May 15 to discuss imposing a $500-a-day late fee as specified in the contract, County Administrator Quesenberry said.
The board also got legal advice from County Attorney Matt Britton, Quesenberry said.
Supervisors have to approve the final settlement between the county and Southwood--and probably will discuss that in closed session Tuesday, Brooks said.
County officials have had the daily fine, called the "right to assess liquidated damages," in mind for months.
In a September email, Quesenberry explained the deadlines in place at the time: Aug. 1, 2011, was the substantial completion date and Dec. 1, 2011, was the final completion date.
"The fee could be effective as of Aug. 1," Quesenberry wrote in September.
Since then, the final completion date has been changed to June 1. It's not clear when the daily penalty would begin, if the supervisors do decide to impose it.
AN EXCEPTIONAL PRICE
Despite the delays, supervisors point out the incredible bargain the county got on the building. Officials expected the new center to cost more than $13 million when they put the project out for bids.
Fourteen contractors responded in March 2009, when the construction market was still at a low point, and bids hovered between $7.3 million and $8.7 million.
"The price we got was exceptional," Grzeika said in an email Friday.
He added the basement was included because the cost "was just too good to pass up, which is why it [the building] seems so large."
After the discussion of delays, the second-most talked about theme of the new Sheriff's Office seems to be its size. The new center is 40,000 square feet, as big as the University of Mary Washington's new Center for Education and Research in Dahlgren.
"People have been saying, 'Why does it have to be so big?' " said Supervisor John LoBuglio. "But compared to other jurisdictions, I would say it's comparable."
Supervisors Grzeika and Dale Sisson Jr. pointed out the new facility will provide room for gathering and storing evidence and have features that will carry it into the future.
Uniformed officers and administrators also will have adequate room to work.
"They're sitting on top of each other now," Brooks said. "They don't have proper holding cells. That little jail is ridiculous."
Still, "it is a dramatic increase in size" between the current space and the new one, Sisson said.
Currently, workers with the Sheriff's Office take up about 2,000 square feet of space in the county courthouse. One detective has an office in the county administration building, and members of the narcotics task force work out of a building on the Navy base at Dahlgren, Dempsey said.
The department also stores equipment at the Ralph Bunche school.
All employees will move to the new Sheriff's Office, as will the storage and gym equipment from Ralph Bunche.
"The instructions we received were to build a building that will facilitate the county for at least 20 years," Dempsey said. "There's room to grow, but no one could walk through it and say there's any wasted space. The space is well-utilized and planned for."
NICE FACILITIES, NO STAFF
Supervisor Ruby Brabo said she's heard from residents concerned "that the new facility appears to be exorbitant." She said they also questioned why so much was invested in the Sheriff's Office when the fire-and-rescue operation has critical shortages.
At a town-hall meeting Brabo hosted in April, county fire-and-rescue officials said King George needs at least 10 more full-time workers to man its stations around the clock.
Brabo led an effort to hire three more fire-and-rescue workers, which would have added another penny to the tax rate. That effort failed when LoBuglio changed his mind and said he couldn't support any tax increase.
The county's inability to hire more staff concerns Koontz Campbell, a resident who spoke at Brabo's meeting and before the supervisors recently. She pointed out the county couldn't afford to upgrade two animal-control officers from part- to full-time status to help at the new Animal Pound, which opened in the summer of 2010. The county also didn't fund additional aides needed at L.E. Smoot Memorial Library, which is undergoing an expansion that will double its size.
"One of my biggest concerns is we're shoveling money like crazy into facilities, and we're not staffing them," Campbell said. "Facilities are nice and you need them, but without the staff, you're just wasting money."
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425