AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – With the allegations against Augusta Commissioner Sammie Sias, regarding his activity at the Jamestown Community Center, we are taking a closer look into inspection records at the facility.
The Augusta Fire Chief opened up to NewsChannel 6 to explain why we discovered a gap in inspections at Jamestown. This comes amid allegations of wrongdoing by Sias at the center.
There have only been three fire inspections at Jamestown Community Center in the past decade despite being a place that holds adults and children.
We know that Commissioner Sammie Sias typically holds a summer program for children each year at Jamestown and his monthly community breakfast too, drawing several dozen people inside those doors.
So, we submitted a Freedom of Information Act to see how many inspections take place a year and we learned there is a gap. Despite that gap, the fire department didn’t break any rules.
“I had questions of how can we go this long without inspecting our own facility,” said Commissioner Brandon Garrett of the building that sits in his district.
Even though that’s the case, he told us he doesn’t know how Jamestown Community Center escaped annual fire inspections.
NewsChannel 6 dug deep and learned after the center expanded in 2008, a fire inspection took place in February of 2009.
The inspector noted two violations during reinspections in March and June of 2009. Those were combustible materials in equipment rooms and a hood requirement above the commercial cooking appliance.
By January 2010, no violations were found. But the center still was not operating with the use of its stove due to it needing the required safety hood for grease and oil cooking.
The hood purchase finally happened by 2012.
But the next fire inspection didn’t take place until 2018.
Commissioner Garrett added, “You would hope that buildings that house children every summer or even during the week would be at the top of the list each year to get inspected just to make sure everything is safe.”
Chief Chris James spoke with NewsChannel 6 about the gap in inspections. He told us, “Jamestown Community Center is not what we’d consider a Title 25 structure, occupancy for us to inspect.
Chief James said while he’d like to inspect every structure in town annually, he simply can’t. He said city code only requires inspections of smaller buildings upon complaint or periodic. Larger facilities such as hotels get priority.
Chief James added, “These are buildings that would have over a thousand people occupancy load. The Civic Center, our schools, these are Title 25 buildings.”
Chief James said a periodic inspection was done on all community centers, including Jamestown in 2018. All of those violations were addressed.
He said there are more than 9,000 businesses in Augusta, not including schools or new construction. He said to add smaller structures like Jamestown to the list, that would increase a fire inspector’s workload to 10,000 structures, a move that would require four times the staff and a million dollars from the city.
“The community centers are not listed as daycares with the state of Georgia. The particular community center that we’re talking about, Jamestown Community Center, the business license inspection said Faith Tutoring and Learning Center. It is not considered a school,” Chief James said.
During this interview, which can be seen in its entirety below, we asked Chief James whether he thinks city code should change to incorporate these smaller facilities. He said not without the necessary resources to cover them. He also welcomes any commissioner to come to the Fire Station and look at the documents themselves.
NewsChannel 6 also caught up with District 2 Commissioner Dennis Williams, the public safety committee chairman. He told us he had no issue as long as Chief James was following code.
Check out the full interview with Chief James below.
Photojournalist: Gary Hipps