Faulty Fire Alarm System and Overbudget Renovations

An inspection last summer revealed that the fire alarm system in the nearly 30 year old Gulfport courthouse is outdated, and doesn't meet safety standards. We asked the fire coordinator if the system works. "Sort of, which means in certain areas, yes the fire alarm system does work but would everybody get the message that there is a fire in the second floor and they're down on the bottom floor, no," says George Mixon. Mixon says that information was passed onto the architect and to county administrator Pam Ulrich. Ulrich says she doesn't remember getting the information. The architect says replacing the fire alarm system is included in the last phase of the renovation for about 130-thousand dollars. But the supervisors say it needs replacing now. District 5 Supervisor Connie Rockco says,"If we're not meeting safety specifications I think that's something we need to address."  Supervisor Larry Benefield says, "And I'm amazed that after a year we didn't know we were in that condition." The supervisors voted to immediately get bids to put in new systems in both courthouses.

As for the phase four renovations, the supervisors approved $168,000 dollars for a new courtroom, witness and jury room. But without the supervisors okay, the list now includes 14 other items, hiking the price to nearly half a million dollars. The budget doesn't cover the extras and the supervisors took no action. "Our architect has not approached the board members and said these are the changes we wanna make and here's why we wanna make 'em. We weren't evidently privy to those conversations at this point," says board president William Martin. Rockco added, "The board has the ultimate responsibility of all expenditures and we need to know about any change orders before they occur."