Buried remnants of Abilene’s past keep churning up as construction crews work on the new Dickinson County Jail.
Crews recently discovered the remains of an old tunnel that led north and south from the former Belle Springs Creamery under Cottage Street over to the railroad tracks. The creamery building, which was located at Cottage and Court Streets, was removed in 1999.
“We had been told by several old timers there was an underground tunnel over to a building to the railroad tracks,” Dickinson County Administrator Brad Homman told commissioners on Thursday.
“We always kind of thought that was an urban legend or myth, but it’s there. We found it,” Homman said. “There is an underground tunnel. It’s been filled in solid with a bunch of stuff, but they found the end of it.”
Chancy Smith, the county’s emergency management director who also oversees county building maintenance, said the tunnel was made of concrete, was about 3½ feet wide, 5 to 6 feet tall and was filled with bricks and sand.
“I would say it collapsed when the creamery was deconstructed,” he said.
“It was like walking out at basement level. It went directly north from the creamery building, which was in about the same location as the new jail,” Smith explained. “It went under the street and was a way to get under the railroad tracks without going over them. Maybe it was there before they built the railroad tracks on top. Who knows?”
The Belle Springs Creamery was a historic part of Abilene history for a number of reasons, including the fact that former President and 5-Star General Dwight D. Eisenhower worked there before leaving Abilene to start his military career. Years earlier, Eisenhower’s father, David, moved the family to Abilene to take a job at the creamery.
The old creamery location also played a role in early Abilene history because the Drover’s Cottage was in that vicinity. Drover’s Cottage was Abilene’s largest hotel during the cattle drive days.
The tunnel came up during Thursday’s meeting after Commissioner Craig Chamberlin asked if jail construction had gotten to the point where there would be no more surprises.
“I said that a few weeks ago,” Homman said with a chuckle, commenting that soon afterward, crews found another piece of foundation from the old creamery while preparing to install a grease separator on the kitchen sewer line.
“Then we had to have Boyd’s (excavating company) come in and that was a little over $500 to remove that section of wall,” Homman said. “The only thing we have left to do underground is the sewer line on the east and south. I’m not going to say there’s not going to be surprises because I don’t know.”
Removing old foundation remnants was a big part of the groundwork preparation for the jail project a year ago when crews found debris that was shoved into the creamery’s basement and covered up.
Another underground surprise included the January discovery of old concrete structures that once held a large oil tank for a courthouse heating system removed years ago.
Work is still ongoing on the jail project but it’s crawling along until walls can be built.
“The good news is nothing really bad has happened,” Homman said when giving his jail update. “The bad news is nothing has really happened. We’re still stuck in limbo waiting for masons to come in.”
Although Project Manager Tom Shirack of Loyd Builders is keeping other facets of the project moving, Homman said the masons are still working on another job in Manhattan. Since a union group has the contract only union people can work on the new jail or “it voids the contract with Loyd Builders,” Homman said, but added it doesn’t really matter because no masons are available — union or non-union.
Because of the CARES (Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security) Act, which created an infusion of money into local economies, nearly all contractors have more work than they can handle, Homman said.
“The painter was supposed to start last week. They called the day before they were supposed to be here and backed out,” Homman said. Unfortunately, switching to the second or third painters on the bid list will cost the county more money.
One bid was $17,000 higher, while the other bid was about $40,000 more, he said.
“We’re trying to work with them to ratchet down” and see if something could be worked out with the second lowest bidder, Homman said.
Some areas are ready to be painted, he said. Nearly all the electrical has been installed and electrical crews were preparing to “fire up” the panels in the jail, which also “indicates they are ready to be painted,” Homman said.
Chamberlin asked if everything is ready for the masons so they would be able to complete their portion of the project when they arrive. Homman said it is.
Because of the delays, the project completion timeline has been pushed into January 2021, rather than November.
“Obviously, as we go from November into December not much happens in December with contractors being off for the holiday week, vacations and different things so it’s realistic to push off into January for the administration and booking portion (of the jail addition to be finished).
However, Homman noted if the masons arrive soon, work could move quickly, “but right now we’re kind of stuck at a standstill.
“We’re still moving forward. There’s not any major difficulties, but it’s out of our control,” he said.
The phase 1 contingency fund — money set aside to cover unexpected costs — still has about $45,000 to $50,000 left, Homman said. The actual amount remaining is higher, but $116,000 has been set aside for kitchen equipment.
Homman said kitchen equipment is a flexible item because the county could do a lease/purchase if necessary, but over the long run it would cost less to buy the equipment.
“If we don’t have to lease/purchase, that’s money we don’t have to pay interest on,” he explained.
However, if contingency money gets tight, the kitchen equipment could be leased.
Contact Kathy Hageman at email@example.com .