Chowel agrees to hire architect to get past Fort Deposit Industrial Development Board issues

Published 6:55 pm Friday, January 15, 2016

By Fred Guarino
The Lowndes Signal
A company official from Chowel agreed at a meeting with the Fort Deposit Industrial Development Board, members of the Fort Deposit Town Council and the Fort Deposit Planning Commission, Tuesday night, to hire an architect that will move the company passed issues that could have caused the board to shut down the company’s operations in Fort Deposit.
Chowel is in the process of renovating the Cummings Signs building in Fort Deposit to expand its operations, which are expected to create about 200 jobs.
Arlene Richardson, Fort Deposit Industrial Development Board and Town of Fort Deposit attorney, said James Koo, chief operating officer of Chowel Weldparts Inc., “agreed to hire an architect to do an as built assessment of all renovations and their plans, which is required under state law.” She said the board needs to be satisfied that the building is built (renovated) to code.
Richardson said of the agreement, “It is a positive thing. If they weren’t willing to hire an architect, we would have to shut down the operation. So, this is a positive thing for the community and the government entity. We’re doing everything we can to make sure that happens without shutting down progress.”
Richardson said the purpose of the meeting Tuesday night was for Chowel to produce the construction documents the board asked for, which are signed, sealed, specifications and plans for renovations going on in the building.
She also said, it is required under state law to have an architect when one does a renovation of more than 2,500 square feet. She said the board had not received anything that showed that.
“It opens up liability for us, if we know that you (Chowel) are doing that and doing it without these professionals,” Richardson said.
Koo said the building was leaking and lighting was old. He said new panels and lighting were installed and that stolen electrical cable was replaced. He said no building columns or beams were touched.
Richardson said, “We can correct this problem, but what you are going to have to do is have the licensed professional come in and sign off that the work that has been done is according to the building code. And we don’t have any choice about that. That’s the state law.” She said, “We don’t want to hurt you. That is not our intent.”
Fort Deposit Industrial Development Chairman Barry Robinsons said, “We support you, but we are also saying is that no one is above the law… We open ourselves up to liability without following the law, especially as a government entity.”
He asked for “as built type drawings for the improvements that were done from licensed professionals who can stamp the drawings and say these are the improvements that were done and they’re up to standard code or up to a certain level of acceptability for that professional to accept.”
Brian Yeo, who appeared at the meeting with Koo, said an architect (Richard Shin) will come in.
Richardson reminded Chowel representatives that the deadline is the 21st of January and asked for an engagement letter to satisfy the board that the required documentations will be provided as soon as possible, which was agreed to.
Steve Foster, who serves as project manager and human resources director for Chowel in Fort Deposit, reported that about 70 percent of the employees hired by Chowel will be from the Fort Deposit Trade Area.
Foster said the Chowel operation in Fort Deposit has helped a lot of people who really needed a job. He said a lady hired last week had four children and had been out of work. He said, she “is so excited to have a job to be able to take care of her family…Your efforts are paying off, helping people who need help.
He also reported that about 50 people are working at Chowel in Fort Deposit now.

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