Council Approves New Jail 

The circus returns, but City Council says yes to mayor's jail contract.

Mayor Dwight Jones is finally getting his jail, overcoming the final legislative hurdle by winning City Council’s blessing Thursday night with a 7-2 vote of approval.

Jones’ selection of Tompkins Builders and S.B. Ballard Construction to build a $116.6 million jail in the East End endured plenty of drama in the last two weeks. Ultimately, however, the majority of council, minus dissenting Councilmen Marty Jewell and Bruce Tyler, felt the Jones administration did enough to address issues concerning minority participation, the height of the proposed jail and concerns about the fairness of the procurement process to sign off on the deal.

“This has been a much anticipated vote and I want to thank City Council for acting on our recommendation. We are confident that this is the right outcome,” Jones said in a statement released after the vote. “This is the right decision for our city, the law enforcement officers and the inmates. The citizens of Richmond thank you and the dedicated sworn officers that work at the City Jail thank you.”

Jones was in attendance for much of the meeting, but left before the final vote. At times, council chambers morphed into a rollicking revival. It seemed like the entire sheriff’s office was there. A retired carpenter dressed in black pinstripes, complete with a faux ball and chain, scolded council and the mayor. Donnie Corker, aka Dirtwoman, lectured Jones, “a good preacher,” and Council President Kathy Graziano: “You need to retire. You’re a troublemaker.” Tense times, maybe, but Jones and Graziano couldn’t help but smile as the chamber bounced with laughter.

Questions surrounding minority contracting – Tyler finally got something resembling an answer to his questions about how much work would go to actual minority contractors – were addressed. (It turns out of the $24 million in construction work being handled T.K. Davis Construction, the group’s minority partner, $17 million will go to concrete suppliers who will not likely be minority suppliers, but it still counts.) And the city did discover that two of the four bidders had buildings that were much closer, if not under, the highest elevation of the eastern hill behind the jail.

On Monday, Jones declared that all four proposals the city received to build the jail came in over the bluff, which the city says it about 150 feet above sea level. Before the vote Thursday, Chief Administrative Officer Byron Marshall told the council that the city had done some additional consulting with the teams bidding on the project.

“It is very clear that two of the proposals had heights that exceeded the bluff. The other two have both been consulted and one believes that it did not exceed it because … the bluff height is three feet higher than we say it is,” Marshall said. It turns out the city’s estimates of the elevations of each proposal, including mechanical equipment, may have been off. This matters because the height, or building a shorter jail, costs much more than a taller one.

Does any of it really matter now? Of course. This is only one of the biggest public works projects the city has ever undertaken. Expect a full day of backslapping press conferences on Friday. And now that the deal is official (well, almost) who knows what will fall out of the woodwork? Stay tuned.


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