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Dead issue given new life

A Column by the Editor
web posted April 20, 2009
COLUMN – Some people just can’t take “no” for an answer on a “dead” issue, in this case the county’s refusal to purchase the Calliham building and property. Edgefield Mayor and President of Edgefield Construction, Ken Durham, has once again brought the matter up for discussion by the Edgefield County Council though earlier this month County Council Chairman Monroe Kneece said the issue was “as dead as it gets”. The matter should not be allowed to be resurrected and the county should move forward on plans to rebuild on the Church Street property we already own.

After it was announced that there would be a special called meeting of the County Council for Tuesday night, I stopped in to see County Administrator John Pettigrew who said the council would be reviewing yet another proposal by Durham. So the next logical stop was the office of Ken Durham for more information.

Durham stated he has now figured out another way to make the purchase go forward by working out a scenario where the purchase and remodeling could be accomplished without costing the county any additional funds.

I have not seen the proposal, and quite honestly I have no idea why Chairman Kneece or the county council is even allowing Durham to push his plan again.    

It begs the question, why is Durham so dead set to have the county purchase the property?

J.P. Calliham could never produce a clear title to the property (asking price of $425,000 when the county considered buying the building) and the property was sold last month on the courthouse steps for $50,000. I’m certain the new owner, Mr. Calliham’s cousin, who held over a $400,000 lien on the property when it foreclosed, is going to sell it short for the good of the county. Not!

Also due serious consideration is that all the proposed numbers on renovations have always come from Durham. I wonder why the numbers are coming from Durham instead of an outside company, and the price of renovations keeps going down each time. Basically, in my opinion, the numbers Mr. Durham is giving the county council to consider are fictional at best.

Durham’s claim to have worked out all the construction costs for remodeling just a portion of the Calliham building to the penny is, with all due respect, not one that I have much confidence in - taking
into consideration his historical record of construction and remodeling projects he’s done for the county in the past. The work on the jail, over budget, the remodeling of the county council chambers, way over budget, yet we are to believe this time he has it all figured out to the penny for a building that is over 50 years old.

Not to mention the numbers are provided without any specifications (required in commercial construction projects), no blueprints, and the fact that nobody, not even Edgefield Construction, can guarantee a price on a remodeling job because of the fact that you never know what is hidden behind the walls of an old existing building adding thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars, in extra cost every time an “unexpected problem” is “discovered”.

In past conversations with Mr. Durham on the cost of remodeling any building he gave a square foot price of between $90 and $100, not counting any unexpected problems. That would mean the remodeling of less than half of the building would range in price from $360,000 to $400,000 (or $810,000 to $900,000 for the entire building).

Given those numbers, that would mean that the purchase price of the Calliham property would have to be in the area of $200,000 just to come close to break-even for the county. Not to mention, the county would then be responsible and liable for the entire property from the date of purchase and beyond.

I would also point out that Edgefield Construction would not be able to be involved in the remodeling project (if the county council unwisely votes to proceed in the “dead issue”) due to his intimate involvement in the matter. So if Durham is wrong in his estimates he has “no dog in the fight” and the taxpayers will be left holding the bag, or the bills, as the case may be.

Another problem is that the Edgefield County Council has never received the first public comment on this matter, always running behind closed doors to discuss it. Open government at its worst.

The simple fact is the county needs a new building and must begin construction soon. The deadline to collect the additional insurance money runs out in the next two months if construction does not get underway before the deadline. Enough is enough, let’s move on with the plans already in hand for the new building and be done with it. We already own property where the planned 4,000 square foot building will go and rebuilding the one destroyed by fire is the most logical solution to the problem.

If Durham’s plan is so great, let the Town of Edgefield buy the property.

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