The Porterdale City Council selected an architect at Monday's monthly meeting to begin preliminary stages for the first phase of the reconstruction of the Porterdale Gym, which burned in 2005. But the decision to choose the architect didn't come easily.
Shortly after the item came up on the agenda for discussion, Councilman Mike Harper, who himself is a general contractor, raised the issue of overspending. According to Harper, the city may have spent too much on line items he felt were grossly inflated during the restoration of the historic train depot.
In his estimation, the city could have spent roughly the same amount they did to finish the interior and exterior of the train depot versus just the exterior, which was completed earlier this year.
"I'm just trying to make sure that every dollar we spend to rebuild this gym, of the money that's been donated and raised, is spent in a way that we get more bang for the buck," he said.
Harper made a motion to table the selection of the architect until next month's council meeting, but other members of the council disagreed with a 2-3 vote.
Harper made his intentions clear and said he did not want to thwart or delay the project; rather he had the city's taxpayers in mind. His hope is that the city can have more control over the bidding process and determining which contractors are chosen for the various aspects of the reconstruction.
"I may be wrong, and I'm the first to admit if I've made a mistake and these numbers may be justified," Harper added. "But I think we owe it to the tax payers of Newton County to do this correctly."
Fellow council members Arline Chapman and Kay Piper agreed, with Piper being the most supportive.
"I appreciate the fact that Mike has this construction experience and I agree with that," Piper said. "This project will be done in phases and in each phase. I think there needs to be a schedule of values that breaks down every item within that phase. That will ultimately help us chose the contractors for the job."
The council eventually voted unanimously to enter into preliminary discussions with a local firm to begin planning the reconstruction. The first phase includes surveying, a complete structural analysis and a conceptual design, which the council says will involve the public.
Council members agreed the best way to manage the project is to form a closer relationship with the architecture firm and community.
The city put out an RFQ (request for qualification) for bids to be considered for the project. After receiving five bids, the mayor and council selected three finalists. Friends of Porterdale Inc. president Kay Coggin attended the meeting and said she was pleased the council came to the unanimous decision.
"I think this was a big step in there tonight and I'm excited," Coggin said. "It's a big step in the right direction. I think people are waiting to see something happen. I've come to realize this is a slow process and we need money."
The decision may now give the Friends of Porterdale the ability to raise more money. As it stands, the city has raised and set aside more than $800,000 for the project which will cost an estimated $3 million.
"We're really starting to push this," Coggin said. "I've talked to some people in Covington who have money and people want to look at blueprints so now we can go to them and show them we are ready."
Still, everyone involved knows the gym won't be rebuilt overnight and fundraising will continue until the target is met.
Earlier in the evening, Sen. John Douglas (R-Social Circle) presented the city with a check for $200,000 for the gym.
"We tried to get as much money as we could," Douglas said. "Let's just say this is seed money. It's a down payment and we'll go back next year and try to get more.