County new

Construction of the Dickinson County Jail came to a standstill earlier this month after structures were found underground.

When workers dug underground to lay piers for the new jail foundation, they discovered concrete structures on the north corner of the courthouse that at one time held a large heating and oil tank. Soil testing done in preparation for the build did not locate the structures.

Upon inspection of courthouse plans, it was learned when the current 1956 courthouse was built, an oil-burning heater was installed but natural gas also was run into the courthouse.

“Apparently heating oil was cheaper then,” said County Administrator Brad Homman. “We didn’t know it was under there until we pulled the original plans and looked at the fine details and, sure enough, originally there was a big tank down there. It was a surprise.”

While the tank was removed sometime in the 1970s, the concrete structures that held it were left in place.

“They (construction workers) were digging around the corner to do the foundation work, they hit those and had to come in with the big hammer and big track hoe, but they wouldn’t budge,” Homman told county commissioners last week.

Eventually the structures were removed, but the next problem involved water seeping into the bottom of the holes for the foundation. Compaction or compression testing was done to determine how solid the ground was and it was not.

“You don’t want to build a foundation on something that’s not solid,” Homman explained. “So we had to go back to the drawing board with the civil engineers.”

Further testing came back “kind of positive,” he said. “It looks to me like they’ll allow us to move forward with a little bit of a change in the foundation down deep.”

Typically, columns or piers are placed on a solid surface, but that would involve drilling down another 20-some feet to hit shale.

“In this case with the soil test and everything they’ve done, it looks to me like they’re going to allow an ‘over excavation’ in the bottom of that hole with a big pad that could be compacted with gravel,” Homman said. “On top of that, they’ll put a concrete layer.”

Just as the existing courthouse building sits on piers, so too will the jail addition.

“Obviously, the concern is we have an existing building and we’re building a new building next to it. You don’t want one to settle more. Otherwise, we’ll have inconsistencies in the two,” he said.

About the project

Work started in the fall of 2019 on a new jail and sheriff’s department, located east of the current courthouse. Phase 1, building the new jail, is expected to be completed in November 2020 according to estimates made earlier in January.

Phase 2 involves renovation of the 64-year-old courthouse.

The renovation will make the building more energy efficient, replacing outdated, failing systems and updating electrical and other systems for today’s usage.

Dickinson County Commissioners in 2019 approved a total budget of $15 million for the construction project. Of that, $13.5 million will come from a bond issue approved by voters in August 2018. The rest will come from money the county already set aside from a two-mill levy created in 2013 to fund a building project.

Temporary courthouse

When it comes time to remodel/renovate the courthouse, the building will be vacated.

Operations and offices will be relocated and the likely location is county-owned Sterl Hall located at the Central Kansas Free Fairgrounds. More information about using Sterl Hall will be addressed in a separate story.

Homman said he recently met with fair board members about using the facility. Also representatives from Goldberg Group Architects, the firm that designed the new jail and courthouse renovation, were going to look at Sterl Hall while in Abilene for a construction status meeting.

“They’ll actually do some measurements and talk about what departments we think we can get out there (at Sterl Hall) during the renovation,” Homman said.

The courthouse remodel is expected to be bid sometime in June.

“That will give contractors a few months to be more on top of what those bids will be so they know how to purchase things,” he said.

Even though work on the jail construction project has slowed in recent weeks due to various issues and the wet weather, Homman said things are progressing.

Contact Kathy Hageman at

Contact Tim Horan at

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