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An expensive screen being erected around the air-conditioner unit at the Shelby County Judicial Center to hide its unsightly appearance from the public is complete.
Some small shrubs were added last week around the base of the unit to finish the project that cost in excess of $109,000.
Shelby County Judge-Executive Rob Rothenburger, who is the chair of the Shelby County Project Development Board, which ordered the installation of the screen,said he has not had any feedback about whether the community likes the finished product.
“I’m sitting here looking at it out my window right now, and I’m like probably about ninety-five percent of Shelby County who drive right past it and don’t even notice it,” he said. “I haven’t heard any talk about the aesthetics of it, but I continue to hear plenty of feedback about the newspaper article.”
Rothenburger is referring to two articles detailing negative public reaction to the controversial decision by the SCPDB to build the screen.
Public consensus was outrage that the Administrative Office of the Courts would go to the expense to the build such a screen, while at the same time imposing mandatory furlough days on judicial employees, excluding judges and electing officials.
AOC officials were quick to point out that the funding for the screen did not come from the same source as the funding for the employees’ salaries, a distinction that nevertheless was questioned by some people.
Rothenburger said that after Family Court Judge John David Myles suggested finding a way to hide the unit that was deemed unsightly, the decision was debated for several months and that several options were suggested, such as painting it or adding natural landscaping, an option, which he liked.
“I just think it would have been the most cost-effective way to deal with the problem, plus I’m just a person who likes a lot of trees and vegetation,” he said.
Rothenburger was not at the final meeting of the board that was held May 24, when the change order for the project was approved, and he has said he was not in favor of it.
The decision to build the screen came at the 80th and final meeting of the board, which has been overseeing the $20 millionconstruction of the 58,000-square-foot facility that opened Dec. 19.
According to the minutes from the May 24 meeting of the committee, Shelby Circuit Judge Charles Hickman made a motion to approve contractor requests for the project, which was seconded by Ronnie McCall, an AOC employee who satin for regular AOC member Leesa Carpenter.
Hickman, McCall, Circuit Clerk Lowry Miller and Shelby County Magistrate Hubert Pollett voted for its passage.
Although Myles was not a voting member of the board, he attended its meetings and served as its secretary, compiling the minutes. AOC officials said he did not have to be part of the board to execute that role. Myles has not returned telephone messages from The Sentinel-Newsseeking comment.
Rothenburger said that although he didn’t agree with the decision to spend so much money on the 14-foot metal screen, he does acknowledge that the unit is unsightly and never should have been a problem in the first place.
“I just wonder why the architect would not take that into consideration in the first place,” he said. “We were kind of surprised ourselves when this big monstrosity showed up on the ground.”
Bill Pickering, the architect for the project, was not available for comment, but Hickman said the unit originally was supposed to be placed on the roof, with the walls built around it to hide it.
Hickman said the matter of how to deal with the problem was not decided in haste but that the committee looked at several other options first, including natural landscaping and painting, but discarded those measures as impractical or inadequate and decided that the screen would be the most practical and best in the long run.
“This was came in as the very last item that we had to deal with,” he said. “They threw out the price, and it looked like we did not have the money.”
He said that after funding was verified, the committee decided to move forward with the concept.
“It may look like we went out there and spent this money willingly and didn’t care, but that’s not true,” he said. “This [money] doesn’t come out of the same pot of money that the raises do, and if it did, if we could give that money to those folks [judicial employees], I would be the first one in line to say yes.”
Rothenburger said as far as he and Pollett were concerned, they only wanted what was best for the downtown area. “Our focus was how to enhance the downtown area,” he said.
State Sen. Paul Hornback (R-Shelbyville) said the idea of the 14-foot tall, 45-square-foot screen itself was not so horrendous, he only questioned that it should have cost so much, with prices running at $32,000 for materials, frame and concrete costs at $30,000 to $40,000 and labor between $47,000 and $50,000.
Hornback said he was so outraged when he learned how much had been spent, he went and asked a local company, Shuck Fence, to give him an estimate on what they would have constructed a similar screen for.
That estimate was $10,732 for a 12-foot-tall privacy link fence, constructed of vinyl-coated black mesh, with 4-foot posts set in concrete.
Pickering had said earlier that he thought the screen, built by construction company, Hubbard Construction of Georgetown, was a “very reasonable” solution.
Hickman said the committee made its decision based on what its members considered to be the best option for the project.
“We had done everything else that we felt was important for the building,” he said. “We wanted to be good stewards of the money, and we were within the budget for the project. We felt it was important that it be designed well, that it was going to be something the community could be proud of. That was our concern as a committee all along.”