A question of time

January 15, 2013

For the last year, county employees have been fielding questions concerning the state of the courthouse. It has been called everything from an oversized tombstone to a “Monster Energy Drink” can (because of its black and green coloring). Visiting attorneys and persons with business in the courthouse have called many offices trying to find it – only to discover that it really IS that big black building in the middle of town.
The piece of granite fell on September 9, 2011. After the engineers finished with their studies, it was determined that all the granite had to be removed, which was accomplished in early 2012. Thankfully, no person or property was injured in either the initial accident or in the removal process. Since the need for a new jail was also pressing, it made sense, as long as architects and construction managers were being selected, to select for both projects. Timelines were created, and approval for the bonds obtained. Late last year, $9,480,000 in general obligation bonds were sold; the process for approving and selling the remaining $5,870,000 begins tomorrow. So, with plans in hand, contractor hired, money available – what happens next?
Persons who have been in the courthouse this week have heard the merry music of the jackhammer being used outside. The slanted wall at the base of the building serves no purpose with regard to the structural integrity of the building – and has no place in the new design. It’s removal has been problematic, as it is very thick, thirty year old concrete – and a slip with the equipment could damage the cinderblock wall which is now the exterior wall of the building. Once it is down, and the rubble removed, the field will be open for the contractor to work.
Some people have commented on the ad in the classified section from Turner Construction. This is the company that Nolan County hired to build the new façade for the courthouse and to build the new jail and office facility. One reason that they were retained was that they have a reputation for trying to use local people and contractors; hence the local ads. They met with interested subcontractors this week for a walk through on the courthouse project, and will soon meet with the commissioners. All hiring of subcontractors and purchase of equipment will be done by the construction company.
The next step is for the representatives of Turner Construction, and the architect to sit down with the Commissioners and determine what is known as the “guaranteed maximum price” for the courthouse project. If the project goes over this amount (without change orders), the excess is paid by the construction company. If it is under, they still receive payment of that amount. The Legislature approved this method for county construction projects in an effort to encourage construction companies to stay within the amount budgeted by the counties.
The timeline submitted calls for the price to be negotiated, subcontractors hired and on site by the first of February. From then through the end of July, the casual observer should easily see changes being made. All the windows and doors are to be removed and replaced with new ones that will provide better insulation. Insulation will be installed against the building, which will hopefully provide for a reduction in county electric bills. At this time, the plans call for the exterior of the building to be covered with a Leuders Stone, some roughly cut, and some smooth. There will be overhangs over the doors that don’t have them now, and repair or replacement of the steps. Some security issues that have been plaguing those responsible for the safety of the courthouse will also be addressed.
At the same time, the paperwork is going forward on the new facility. Because it takes longer to design and build a project than to fix an existing one, it moves a little more slowly. In addition, there are engineers who deal solely with penal security systems to be consulted, and others who are experts in dealing with the plumbing and electrical issues of jails. The timelines call for the conference on the guaranteed maximum price to take place in early May. (Which means that ads for subcontractors should start appearing in April). Once that is done, site preparation should begin in early June, with the foundation work completed by early August. From there it is nearly a year until the projected completion of the jail and office complex.
This has been – and continues to be – an enormous task for the county officials involved. No Nolan County Commissioner, Treasurer, or Auditor has been charged with managing this amount of money in our history, and it has been well over thirty years since a Commissioners Court was responsible for the decisions leading to the construction of a major county building – much less working on two at a time. It has been a learning experience for all concerned, but in the long run, the people of the county will have a safe, secure courthouse and a jail which meets state standards.
So pardon our mess, and please be careful around the courthouse square…but celebrate with us when it’s finished!

Lisa Peterson is the County Attorney for Nolan County. Comments about this column may be e-mailed to editor@sweetwaterreporter.com.

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