September 8, 2017 10:34:08 AM
Continued water seepage issues at the future home of Starkville Police Department pushed aldermen to authorize additional ground borings at the former city hall and delay the signing of a certificate of completion for the building Tuesday.
While the overall $5.4 million renovation effort is mostly complete at this point, workers will now drill down into the ground in an attempt to discover why ground moisture continues to penetrate the facility's basement and mitigate the problem.
Until then, the city is unlikely to sign off on the building and move its police officers into their future home.
"We have to make sure that the building is at the best condition it can be before we authorize the move-in. This is work that is because of unforeseen circumstances, and we don't know yet how much it will cost to fix the problem," said Mayor Lynn Spruill. "We certainly hope it will be as minimal as possible, as we're still operating on our overall construction budget and have not exceeded that amount. We will, though, do our utmost to mitigate the problem to the fullest and most reasonable extent possible."
A ceremony formally dedicating the facility in June was indefinitely postponed after the city was alerted to standing water in the building's basement. Aldermen approved the installation of a sump pump to help clear the area, but incidents of seepage continued during heavy rain events this summer.
The area's antiquated infrastructure -- from storm drains to piping -- could be the cause of the problem, said Pritchard Engineering owner Clyde Pritchard, and the board-approved borings will allow him to fully vet the area.
"I can't solve the problem if I don't know where it's coming from. You can't fix a problem if you don't know why it's happening. (Future remedies) could be an active solution, where we let the water come into a trench and pump it out, or it could be another where we try to keep it from coming in," he said to aldermen Tuesday. "After the last big rain events in august -- three days after the last rains -- you could look in the storm drains outside, and you still had water coming through those storm drains. That's infiltration; that's leakage; that's things coming from stuff underground that has leaked into your system."
Many other buildings in the area -- specifically, those with subsurface basements -- have experienced similar problems as the former city hall, Spruill said.
Project due diligence
Before the board approved the work, Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins grilled project administrators about the building's continued problems and said he wouldn't approve a certificate of completion until SPD is given "a first-class facility."
Perkins focused on lead architect Gary Shafer and repeatedly asked why the problem was solved before large-scale renovation efforts began in earnest.
Shafer and contractors were first told water was entering the basement area through a leaky window and doorway. Both of those issues were fixed during the renovation, he said.
In the project's early stages, Pritchard also completed four due diligence borings at the site, one of which occurred in the basement itself. He told aldermen that at the time of the test, the ground sample was "as dry as popcorn" and was not indicative of an issue.
While Perkins said he was hopeful additional exploratory drillings would help identify the area's issue, he said the additional work provides "no guarantees."
"I'm not going to be remiss in my duties in addressing this issue. I'm not going to gloss over it ... but there is a problem. I hope we can get it fixed, but as of right now it's not. I can't believe ... we cannot figure out where this water is coming from. That's a disgrace," he said. "I don't care if (SPD officers and support staff) never go down to that space, they don't need a building with water in it."
On Wednesday, Ward 5 Alderman Patrick Miller echoed Perkins' call to "get it right" for police officers.
"Chief Nichols and his department need to be in one location for morale and to more properly maintain their objectives," Miller said. "We have a beautiful facility ready for them that we are proud of. I plan to support getting the police department into this building soon."
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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