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Unforeseen obstacles stall completion of courthouse renovation

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POSTED: January 7, 2012 7:00 a.m.
Danielle Hipps/

A contractor lines up wood for finishing work Wednesday in the future offices of the Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission in the northwest wing of the old courthouse. Renovations to the courthouse should be complete in March, about a month behind the projected completion date.

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The Liberty County Board of Commissioners took little action during their Tuesday meeting, but they heard a host of updates on capital projects and discussed taking on a local contractor preference policy.

James W. Buckley & Associates Architects project architect April Mundy said the courthouse renovation project so far has used about $40,000 in contingency funds to cover some unforeseen expenses related to the work.

“We’ve uncovered some things that we didn’t know existed, like waste-pumping that was probably non-existent, as well as some structural things that needed to be repaired,” she said.

When the 1926 building was expanded in the 1960s, some load-bearing walls were knocked down that should have remained, County Administrator Joey Brown said. Some walls also were not built all the way up to the ceiling lines and will have to be modified.

“It’s just a little construction challenge,” he said after the meeting. He anticipates the work will be completed in early March, about a month behind the initial target of late January.

Brown said about $111,000 in audio/visual installations and cabling for a digital phone system also were added to the scope of work, but he views that more as a contract change than contingency  spending.

The $2.2 million project agreement allocated about $140,000 in contingency funds.

Once the building is complete, the Liberty County Board of Elections and Voter Registration and some information technology offices will occupy the south end of the building’s first floor. Offices for the coroner, county agent and 4-H club, as well as a centralized county mail room, will fill the north end. The first floor also will have a multipurpose room for government use, such as meetings and awaiting elections results.

The aim of the centralized mail room is to reduce the cost of post office box rent, travel time and expenses, Brown said after the meeting. Departments in both the courthouse and the annex will receive their mail in locked boxes in the mail room.

The second floor will be devoted to the Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission and the county juvenile court, which will double as the meeting space for the LCPC board.

Buckley and Associates project architect David Holton updated the board on negotiations with Pope Construction over construction of the East End Community Project at the former Liberty Elementary School site.

Initially, the board received six proposals for the project, but each was over the budget of about $3.6 million, according to Brown. In November, the board authorized Holton, Brown and Chairman John McIver to enter into negotiations with Pope, which had the lowest estimated price of $5,955,000.

Holton said he has identified about 40 value-engineering changes that can reduce the price, and he has continued negotiating with Pope.

“We’ve had a couple of meetings with the contractor and have put together some pricing options … we’re not quite there yet,” he said. “There are some tough decisions that have to be made, or some decisions to phase the project before we get it started.”

The commissioners discussed whether to break the project into more phases or make more modifications to the original plans. Commissioner Pat Bowen requested to see the original plans and the value modifications before the board votes on the matter.

Changes include scaling back awnings, reducing sidewalks and changing some materials.

“We’re trying to keep the general look and quality intact,” he said. “We’re doing whatever is necessary to get it to where it could be funded.”

Holton he said he hopes to bring another estimate before the board in February.

In other matters:

• The board discussed adopting a policy that would create preference for local contractors when scoring project bids. Other entities, such as the Liberty County Development Authority, have such policies, and Brown will ask County Attorney Kelly Davis to review other policies and make a recommendation for the county.

• A proposed roof replacement at the Liberty County Senior Center has been tabled so funds can be allocated to items such as new furniture expenditures, Brown said. The roof work previously went out to bid, but the board rejected all bids because they did not meet the specifications. Brown said the roof does not need immediate attention.

• Construction on the county’s building that will be leased long-term to the Division of Family and Children Services is on time, within budget and almost 55 percent complete, Brown said.

• The board also approved qualifying fees for this year’s county elections. Several commission, board of education, judicial and court-related positions are up for election this year. Look for more information on which seats will be open and how to qualify for elections in future editions of the Courier.

 

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