Courthouse

A conceptual look at the addition to the Dickinson County Courthouse.

After nearly a year of prep work and dealing with unexpected hurdles and challenges, bid review for Dickinson County’s new jail and courthouse renovation is tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, July 17.

The City of Abilene issued the building permit Monday, the city’s Heritage Commission approved the project last week and the state fire marshal’s office signed off on the project, which is required by state law.

“We received the city building permit and that’s a big milestone for us,” County Administrator Brad Homman told commissioners Thursday morning. “We are moving forward now.”

Loyd Builders Inc., of Ottawa — the firm serving as construction manager — sent out updated information to bidders to get revised bids because of site work changes. The commission and Loyd Builders representative likely will review the project during the July 17 special meeting.

“The objective at that meeting is for you to receive those, approve them and sign the agreement with Loyd Builders once they give us the guaranteed maximum price to get the project moving,” Homman said. “That is a day we’ve been looking to for a number of years.”

County Commissioners last year approved a total budget of $15 million to build a new jail and renovate the existing courthouse. 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.

The project includes building a new jail and sheriff’s department east of the current courthouse and renovating the existing courthouse, making it more energy efficient, replacing outdated, failing systems and updating electrical and other systems for today’s usage.

Dozens of details

In the 10 months since voters approved the project, county officials, architects and engineers have dealt with thousands of details working to make the project a reality.

“If you don’t know all the details, you’d think the project had stalled,” Homman said. “But it’s allowed us time to get many things figured out. If we had discovered those things after construction started that would have cost us significantly more money in change orders.”

“And the way the weather has been this year we wouldn’t have done anything anyhow. If you start site work and your site is full of water, you can’t do anything. So this is going to work out better in the long run,” Homman explained.

Clearing hurdles

Back in March, county staff hoped construction would start in May; however, what might have been a huge hurdle popped up in April when it was learned the courthouse’s location in Abilene’s historic district could possibly impact the issuance of a building permit.

While some people might not consider the boxlike existing 1956 courthouse a historic piece of architecture, its location in the historic district meant that any change to the existing structure required a review by the state’s historical preservation office.

Before the City of Abilene could issue the building permit, the project had to be approved by the city’s Heritage Commission.

But since the project was a courthouse/jail and commercial structure, the city did not have the resources to look at the plans so they passed it on to the state, Homman explained.

“The whole purpose is to try and maintain the historical significance of the historical properties in our state,” Homman explained.

While plans call for the current courthouse to remain intact, the new jail will connect to it on the east side.

That took several weeks, but luckily the state gave its okay. If they had said no — perhaps deciding the new building could not be connected — that would have meant sending planners and engineers back to the drawing board.

Although approval was granted, the state’s historical preservation officer had a couple conditions:

• All windows must remain, even if they are covered up by the new addition, and the process be reversible.

“They want the windows on the east side of the sheriff’s department and upstairs left in so we’ll just cover them up. So if we ever want to take that jail off and take the building back to the way it was, those windows are there,” Homman said.

• Reversibility needs to be taken into account concerning any additional alterations needed to construct an addition. Simply, construction must be done in such a manner that if the jail is taken off in the future the “essential form and integrity of the historic property and its environment will be unimpaired.”

Once state approval was secured, the city’s Heritage Commission gave the project a thumbs up.

Although it was a little hiccup in the process, obtaining state approval means the courthouse might possibly be eligible for 25 percent in tax credits in the future, Homman said.

No ponds

If the project had started in May, construction likely would have stalled because of the nearly daily rains.

However, the uncommonly soggy weather brought home the importance of drainage, underscoring the importance of moving water away from the building while not overloading the city’s storm drains.

The first plans for the new jail/renovated courthouse complex included two detention ponds, something project planners did not want.

“Usually when these plans are drawn these engineering companies typically have an intern or new person do the drawings. Then an experienced person looks at it, puts their stamp on it and it goes out the door,” Homman said.

In this case, the person who created the drawings believed that the addition — due to it’s additional surface area — would create more storm water runoff so they designed two detention ponds, one in the northwest corner and another where the county attorney’s office now sits.

Additional green space

But in actuality, the new complex will include more green space than the current courthouse area. The project involves taking out a paved street (Court Street) and removing the parking area that stretches nearly all the way to the east property line (north of the current county attorney’s office).

County Engineer John Gough, whose expertise involves drainage from working on roads and bridges, met with the engineering firm and once everyone re-examined the plans, they agreed detention ponds were unnecessary.

“When we look at square footage we’re going to have less impervious ground. We will have more ground that can saturate water than they originally thought,” Homman said.

“With that change, new plans had to be sent out to contractors because they were originally bid with detention ponds,” Homman said. “So without detention ponds, we’re hoping bids should be less.”

The new drainage plan includes underground tubes running off the old and new building over to First Street into a large storm drain installed a few years ago when the street was rebuilt.

Homman said that once Abilene City public works staff saw the drawings and calculations, they were comfortable with the new drainage plan.

The new courthouse jail complex will involve one building — the new jail and renovated courthouse. The county attorney’s office located on the corner of East First and Court Street will be demolished, leveled off, landscaped and grass planted.

Contact Kathy Hageman at reporter@abilene-rc.com

Contact Tim Horan at editor@abilene-rc.com.

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