Supervisors Enter Agreement With Benchmark For Jail

Benchmark Construction Corporation owner David Marsh (standing) fields questions from supervisors during a recessed meeting in late March. Supervisors entered a non-binding agreement with Benchmark to construct a county jail on Monday. – Photo by David Howell

By David Howell
Editor


WATER VALLEY – Yalo-busha supervisors executed a non-binding agreement with Benchmark Construction Corporation to design and construct a new county jail.
    The 4-1 vote at the “first Monday” supervisors’ meeting in Water Valley allows Benchmark to begin the design phase of the jail while simultaneously performing a site analysis on two sites, one in Water Valley and one in Coffeeville.
    During a recessed meeting six days earlier, company president David Marsh assured supervisors the county could withdraw from the project at any time prior to the start of the actual construction–even after signing the agreement.
    The execution of the agreement was a change of course–earlier supervisors had requested proposals from competing architects to bid to design and oversee jail construction with the county advertising the project for bids using the architect’s design.
    Instead, Benchmark will serve as a project manager for the complete job, starting with the design and continuing all the way through the financing phase using a lease-purchase program. Marsh explained that Benchmark will bid different components of the jail, using local contractors when possible.
    “We still got the option to back out, but it looks like the best deal for the county. Financially and structurally, you get a good building,” Board President Tommy Vaughn said, adding that 65 supervisors across the state have been pleased with Benchmark’s performance on other projects. He followed the comments with a formal motion to enter the agreement with Benchmark, a motion that passed after roughly 10 minutes of discussion.

The Discussion
    District 3 Supervisor Lee McMinn cast the sole dissenting vote against hiring Benchmark, prompting the discussion in both the April 1 and March 26 meetings about the pros and cons of hiring Benchmark.
    In both meetings, McMinn noted that Benchmark had a stellar record.
    “You have to admit guys, three months ago we didn’t even want to talk to these folks. Now they’re the way to go. That’s fine,” McMinn said in Monday’s meeting.
    McMinn added that the company’s proposal is put together well, and removes the county from assuming risk if the jail’s price coming in higher than expected. In this situation, Benchmark would not be paid if the jail is not constructed, even after the company had performed the design work.
    “But, I have some reservations on it not being a hard bid process. The construction company’s fee is not disclosed,” McMinn said. “It’s a construction management thing wrapped in a lease, and that’s fine if that is what you want to do.”
    McMinn added that he would vote against the company, instead explaining that he would like to see the county hire an architect who would design the jail. Then the county would take competitive bids from contractors on the total project.
    District 5 Supervisor Frank “Bubba” Tillman was first to counter McMinn’s comments.
    “If we hire an architect and he comes in here and he does all this work and for some unknown reason we say we just haven’t got the money to do this, we still are going to have to pay the architect?” Tillman asked Board Attorney John Crow.
    “That depends on the AIA (American Institute of Architects) document,” Crow answered, referring to the wording of a contract the county would execute with an architect.
    “Bubba, why in the world would we ever do that if we weren’t intending to do it (build a jail)?” McMinn asked, referring to designing the facility and then not moving forward with construction.
    “Well we have been here eight years,” Tillman answered, referring to the ongoing jail discussion. Tillman later clarified that he has never agreed to build the jail, instead he was interested in getting the study done, referring to the initial steps in the non-binding agreement that includes site selection and design that would determine an approximate cost of the jail and supporting infrastructure.
    Tillman’s comments also followed several examples across the state cited in recent meetings when a county shelved plans for jail construction after the bids were too high or an unforeseen expense delayed the jail construction.
    “Essentially by doing this, you are agreeing to hire this company  to come and build this jail. You will have one bid, and one bid only,” McMinn continued.
    “We are not hiring anybody,” Vaughn countered. “All we are doing is letting them get started on the project.”
    “But isn’t this the first part of hiring them?” McMinn asked.
    “It certainly is,” Vaughn answered.
    “Okay, there you go,” McMinn said.
    “Let me address something. It seems like the only factor that we are dealing with is a hard bid,” Vaughn said about McMinn’s reservation. “A hard bid is one thing, but when you give the Board of Supervisors final discretion on what the bid is going to be, that is exactly the same thing as a hard bid,” Vaughn continued
    “Compared to what, Tommy?” Lee asked.
    “Wait just a second. Benchmark is going out for bids on contractors that they have, as well as who we recommend. A hard bid is not necessarily the best bid. I have been inspecting multi-million dollar projects for years,” Vaughn said. “You can come in and take all the meat off the bone and you will get a contractor that will doddle you to death on extras or you will get a project that is not good.  This is a company that has a track record of doing excellent work,” Vaughn added.
    Vaughn also noted that Benchmark submitted a proposal that would include a five percent fee for an architect, which was cheaper than proposals from other architects.
    “But how do you know what the contractor’s fee is?” McMinn said.
    “We are getting a project manager, but they are absolutely absorbing all of the risks,” Vaughn said.
    “That’s the part that I like,” District 2 Supervisor Amos Sims, referring to have Benchmark taking the risks.
    “It would take us another six months to hire an architect and another six months to bid it out the way we want,” Vaughn added.

A Hypothetical Situation
    McMinn then pointed to a recent bridge project, asking County Engineer Karl Grubb how many bidders competed for the job.
    “It was eight,” Grubb answered.
    “And the money was here to there,” McMinn recalled about the range between the bidders.
    “They are going to go out for bids too, Lee,” Vaughn said, referring to Bench-mark.
    “But they’re not. There is nothing to compare the contractor’s bid against,” McMinn said.
    “You compare it against the other bidders,” Vaughn said.
    “They are subcontractors,” McMinn said, referring to bids taken by Benchmark for various components of the construction as described in the company’s proposal.
    “Lee, I think what it is, they are competitive bids, what you don’t see is that markup,” Grubb continued, referring to the fee that will be paid to Benchmark.
    “That’s right,” McMinn answered.
    “You are going to see a concrete contractor and you are going to see five different bidders,” Grubb continued, referring to a hypothetical situation.
    “Five bids for what?” McMinn asked.
    “He is going to have a concrete package, let’s say,” Grubb added.
    “I understand they are going to have different subcontractors, I am referring to the contractor’s fee,” McMinn explained.        
    “He is going to come to y’all and say we took bids on concrete and the lowest bid was this, and I recommend y’all receive this,” Grubb said, continuing the hypothetical situation. “Then he is going to add his fee to that bid,” Grubb explained.
    Both McMinn and Vaughn agreed with Grubb’s explanation.
    “I understand that. Y’all have your mind made up, I just wanted to state that for the record,” McMinn said.

Site analysis
    Vaughn then motioned to sign the agreement with Benchmark, prompting the 4-1 vote Monday. Tillman was in the majority to execute the agreement, but he reiterated his position both in Monday’s meeting and last week’s meeting that his first priority was to see the site comparison between two sites, one in Coffeeville and one in Water Valley.
    “I am for this study, this is what I am going to be for,” Tillman said prior to Monday’s vote.
    Although the preferred location of the new county jail appeared to have been resolved last November with a formal vote selecting the “Water Valley” site on County Road 436, the cost to supply water and sewage remains a factor.
    The county has applied for an ARC grant to help offset the cost of the 1.4 mile water line and sewer line to the Water Valley site. Grant approval could take up to four months, if the federal funding is available.
    Last year, Coffeeville city officials offered to donate acreage in their industrial park for jail construction but Coffeeville site ultimately was rejected, following the  split  vote last November. The reasoning, the sheriff’s department is already located on adjacent property on County Road 436, and the jail and sheriff’s department needed to be together instead of in separate towns.
    Tillman voted against the Water Valley site from the get-go and has jockeyed for a Coffeeville site. Tillman has continually pointed to the cost of infrastructure at Water Valley as a major determining factor.


Benchmark Will Oversee All Facets Of Jail Construction

By David Howell
Editor


WATER VALLEY – After initially taking proposals from various architects proposing fees ranging from six percent of the total construction cost and higher, supervisors agreed Monday to select Benchmark Construction Corporation’s proposal for jail construction. Benchmark proposed a five percent fee for architectural work. The company will also receive construction fees.
    The percentage is based on the total price of the jail construction, which has been estimated in the $2.7 to $3 million range.
    Supervisors met with Benchmark company owner David Marsh on March 26 in a recessed meeting to discuss details before making a selection on April 1.
    While some of the discussion on March 26 paralleled comments in the April 1 meeting, additional details about the deal were discussed.
    Marsh explained his company would supply the financial information for the lease agreement, plus perform all of the architectural services and the actual construction.
    “Every facet of the project is under our umbrella,” Marsh reported.
    Marsh said the lease purchase agreement would be a 20 year-deal.
    Marsh outlined the steps, starting with determining how much the county can spend.
    “We work backwards from that,” Marsh said, referring to the design work that would keep the jail in the county’s budget.
    “At the same time we work with the needs of the sheriff,” Marsh explained.
    Marsh said his company would not be paid until the financing on the lease purchase closes, similar to a bond.
    Marsh then fielded questions about his company’s proposal ranging from site analysis to the bid process.
    With the cost of infrastructure at both the Water Valley and Coffeeville sites, Marsh agreed to perform an analysis on both sites after District Five Supervisor Frank “Bubba” Tillman voiced concern about designing a jail for the Water Valley site and the infrastructure turns out to be cost-prohibitive.
    “If both are under consideration, we can analyze them and design them simultaneously,” Marsh said, referring to both sites.
    “We might need some type of feasibility study done to make a comparison on these two sites,” Board President Tommy Vaughn agreed. “Because if we go the Coffeeville site we would have to move the sheriff’s department and it would leave an empty building, Vaughn continued, referring to the Yalobusha County Complex on County Road 436.    
    “We do that all the time,” Marsh said about researching both sites.
    District Three Supervisor Lee McMinn requested information about the bid process.
    “I just want to make sure that all of the board members here and the public know that this is not going to be a competitive bid-type situation,” McMinn explained. “We are selecting one construction company for basically a non-negotiated price,” he said, referring to the contract with Benchmark.
    Marsh responded, explaining that each section of work would be bid. The bids would then be analyzed and a recommendation would be made to the board.
    “The only thing that wouldn’t be bid would be your fee?”  McMinn asked.
    “I guess, but we will show that on the schedule,” Marsh explained.
    “I hope that when we get this in the paper that we don’t get everybody in the county thinking that we are not getting bids on this stuff because we are,” Vaughn answered.    
    “Lee wasn’t exactly wrong, it wasn’t exactly hard bids all the way. But we are going through the bid process, we are going to use local people whenever we can.  We don’t expect David (Marsh) to work for nothing. They are in the business of making money in building these things,” Vaughn said.
    “I will clarify Tommy’s comment about me maybe not being entirely correct,” McMinn countered. “I think I clarified in my first opening statement that David (Marsh) and I  have met before and he has a great reputation. Of course, I’m not going to tell David Howell (Herald) how to write his newspaper, he writes whatever he wants to write.  I just want to make sure there is a distinct difference between what we are doing here with Benchmark and the other process, which is hire an architect, do a design, and do a hard bid. It is a distinct difference.”

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