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Courthouse remodeling upsets chair

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The Douglas County Courthouse remodeling project caused a heated debate at the May 25 commissioners' meeting.

Near the end of the four-hour-long meeting, a representative from Klein McCarthy, the architectural firm working on the project, was supposed to give a presentation to the county commissioners. However, before he could start, board chair Paul Anderson stated that he was vehemently against the project, which carries a price tag of between $1.8 million and $3.8 million.

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Anderson said he disagreed with the fact that the courthouse remodeling project was being labeled as a continuation of the Douglas County Jail project.

Bruce Schwartzman from Klein McCarthy and Anderson verbally argued over the issue for a few minutes. Anderson felt the remodeling/expansion project should be a completely new issue and not be lumped together with the jail.

In addition, Anderson talked about a local architectural firm that he feels wasn't given a chance on the courthouse remodeling project.

Commissioner Bev Bales tried to explain to Anderson that there was prior approval awhile back to have Klein McCarthy work on the courthouse project

Jerry Johnson, one of the commissioners on the jail project committee, agreed with Bales and said that although the courthouse part of the project "took his breath away," there was a request from Douglas County District Court judges to look at space and safety issues in the courthouse.

"This thing has to get started," Johnson said. "That is why we brought it to the board."

Anderson said he has nothing against Klein McCarthy, along with Contegrity Group, Inc. (CGI), a construction management firm working on the project, but he was concerned that the local firms didn't have an opportunity.

Anderson was also concerned with the cost.

"How are you going to pay for it?" he asked Johnson and the other commissioners. "We don't have the money. How do you plan on paying for it? I will not go for another bonding on it. I will not."

There are four different cost scenarios for the courts' remodeling project, which include:

•Courts holding - $1.8 million. The proposed base bid consists of building a new two-story brick veneer building to the south side of the courts wing, demolishing the interior of the existing jail area and building the courts holding areas. This option would also include the addition of a secure elevator between courts holding and the addition of a fire suppression system throughout the entire lower level.

•Add dispatch center with courts holding project - $3.1 million. This alternate consists of constructing the new dispatch area adjacent to the new courts holding area in the existing jail space. This alternate also includes the new dispatch equipment.

•Add new courtroom with courts holding and dispatch center - $3.7 million. This alternate involves finishing the new second floor area above courts holding for a new ADA accessible courtroom adjacent to the inmate transfer area of courts holding.

•Add remodeled courtroom to courts holding, dispatch center and new courtroom - $3.8 million. This alternate would add the remodeling of the existing courtroom "C."

Johnson explained to Anderson that there is the contingency fund from the jail project, which would help pay for the courts remodeling project.

Anderson said, "This to me is frightening. We don't have the money."

After further discussion, Bales, who was speaking directly at Anderson, said, "We have had two commissioners work on this and both have done a remarkable job. I think it is disrespectful to say they've done a bad job. Some of this project has to be done."

Anderson once again reiterated that his only concern was the money.

Commissioner Norm Salto, who also sits on the jail committee, said that this project was started about two years ago and that he feels it needs to move forward.

"This is what we started. We are moving forward," said Salto. "We are moving in a direction that makes sense."

Commissioner Dan Olson asked the county's auditor/treasurer, Tom Reddick, about the money issue and Reddick told the commissioners that if they think they can do the project without bonding, they better think again.

"Be prepared to do some short-term bonding," Reddick told the board.

Anderson said he realizes there are some problems with the courthouse facilities and that "it's a disaster waiting to happen," but that he was only concerned about the money.

"I just expressed an opinion. They are doing a fine job," he concluded.

Although the commissioners didn't vote on the project itself, they approved - in a 4-1 vote - a planned unit development (PUD) application that will be presented to the city of Alexandria for the courts remodeling project. Anderson voted against it.

Klein McCarthy plans to submit the PUD to the city of Alexandria in the next couple of weeks and then it will be presented for approval at the Monday, July 26 City Council meeting.

Construction on the project, providing it moves forward, is set to begin in October.

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