Dickinson County officials knew getting the specs and details worked out to bid the courthouse renovation/new jail project was going to take a lot of time, but the reality was still a surprise.

“We started on it the day after the election, scheduling meetings and doing things with Goldberg’s people (architect firm Goldberg Group Architects),” said County Administrator Brad Homman.

“We spent eight hours at this table last Tuesday looking at every detail in these books,” he added.

Homman said this while standing next to a conference room table filled with sets of drawings and thick books dictating every element to be included in the new jail and renovated courthouse, ranging from major systems like heating and cooling, down to miniscule, like door hinges.

On Thursday, the county plans to hold a pre-bid meeting for contractors interested in bidding on the major renovation project.

“It’s a chance for them to come in, hear what that project is all about and have a chance to look at the complex and see what they’re bidding on,” Homman said. “If everything goes as planned and the time frames are correct, we’re still looking around the first week of May for construction to start.”

County commissioners last year 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.

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east of the current courthouse and renovating the existing courthouse, making it more energy efficient, replacing outdated failing systems, and updating electrical and other systems for today’s usage.

Tweaking the plans

Initially, it was hoped bid-letting for the jail/courthouse renovation would occur by the end of February, but finalizing costs in an attempt to make sure the project comes in under budget caused delays.

After the August 2018 election, architect’s plans were handed off to the construction manager, Loyd Builders.

“They did all their little tweaking on what an outlet costs, a light switch, concrete for this, concrete for that,” Homman said. “They said right now you’re at $16.9 million, so we said, ‘Where can we cut $1.9 million?’ ”

No underground

What ended up getting cut was an area under the new jail that was intended for evidence handling and storage for the sheriff’s department.

Axing that area meant finding a new location for the evidence. Planners decided to put it into a jail pod area that was not going to be finished initially but would be available if needed.

“They (architects) rearranged some stuff in the sheriff’s department, put the evidence area in there, and shrunk some stuff in the sheriff’s department. The sheriff came back and said they didn’t have enough room for what they need,” Homman said.

So things were tweaked again.

Eliminating the basement evidence storage area also meant a planned electrical room in the same area had to be moved someplace else.

“So the engineers had to get involved and find another place for the electrical room, which ties together all the electrical circuits that affects the whole building,” the county administrator explained.

It also meant reconfiguring an elevator that was going to be used by law enforcement to go down to the basement evidence area as well as upstairs to the courtrooms.

“The change meant the elevator is not going to go below grade, so we have to go back to the engineers to change it so it just goes from the ground up to the courtrooms,” Homman explained. “Just doing the drawings is easy, but then you have to get the mechanical engineers involved. They come up with a list of things that goes to the construction manager. It’s a very detailed effort that takes time.”

While the sheriff’s office needed to have some things changed, other department heads and elected officials have also been involved when it comes to their offices.

“They have met with the architects and they’ll say, ‘I need this many rooms and this many workstations,’ ” explained County Engineer John Gough. “The architects are planning the building layout. Then they sub-out to the engineers who lay out waterline piping for hot and cold, electrical for the lights, communication for the computers to run to the sensors, duct work — where it is going to be and how it’s going to run through.

“The architect lays out the general big picture. The engineer lays out the details for this thing,” Gough said.

“We’ve tweaked and moved things a bunch so we think we will be at the $15 million mark when the bids come in,” Homman added.

Special contractors

Since a big portion of the project involves building the jail, it will require some specialized contractors, including detention construction companies that install jail cells and associated jail equipment.

Brickwork on the new addition will require the services of many brick masons, so bidders will need to have the resources to do a large project, or perhaps several smaller companies can band together to do the work.

“It’s going to take a company that has the resources to bring in a half-dozen or a dozen brick masons to do it,” Homman said.

The electrical work on the new addition and the renovated courthouse will also be a big job.

“Maybe some locals might be able to get together, or maybe we can break it up so local people can bid on it, but I don’t know if they would have the resources to drop what they’re doing for a month and a half and come here,” he said.

Budget is goal

When the project is bid, the best-case scenario would be if bids come back under the $15 million project cap.

“The best thing that could happen is it comes in at $14 million. It accomplishes everything we want and we’ve got a little room for an emergency,” Homman said. “The worst thing that could happen is it comes in at $16.5 and we have to go back to the drawing board.”

Although construction costs keep rising every year, Homman said county staff has been told contractors in the Midwest are “hungry for jobs” this year.

“We are hoping that plays to our favor,” he said.

Contact Kathy Hageman at reporter@abilene-rc.com.

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