$2.6 million building financed with tax money unfinished amid county, contractor dispute

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$2.6 million building financed with tax money unfinished amid county, contractor dispute (Photo: KUTV)

By now, it was supposed to be a new outdoor education center at Wheeler Farm giving people the chance to experience “the wonder of nature.”

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Instead, the $2.6 million building, financed with tax dollars, is unfinished and empty; and a legal dispute has developed between Salt Lake County and the contractor.

Kris Wyatt walks at the farm — a rural oasis in the middle of the Salt Lake Valley — every day, sometimes twice a day.

“Have you seen any work on that building recently?” 2News asked.

“I have not seen anyone even around that building,” she replied.

Friend Lauren Judd had a similar response.

”We’ve only walked past it a couple of times to see what it was, but there’s never been anybody working on it,” she said.

Last January, a county news release said the education center was made possible by a “2016 Parks and Recreation bond and through charitable donations.”

When 2News inquired about the halted project, the Salt Lake County Mayor’s Office had no comment; but the District Attorney’s Office responded with a statement.

“Due to concerns about the timeliness and the quality of work being done, the county unfortunately was forced to terminate its contract with Ascent (the construction company),” said the DA’s Office.

Ascent, based in Farmington, brands itself as “leaders in quality construction experiences.”

The company’s president Brad Knowlton told 2News on Friday “the county stopped the project,” and said he is owed money.

“They (Salt Lake County) haven’t paid their bills,” Knowlton said. “We will litigate to collect.”

The DA’s Office agreed the dispute “will likely be litigated,” but said the county has paid all it should.

“The county denies that it owes any sums for properly completed work,“ said the DA statement. “The Salt Lake County DA’s Office has a legal obligation to protect the taxpayers.“

For now, at the farm where people including families take a breather, there is little to no life at the site of a $2.6 million planned connection to nature.