Addressing the court
Commissioners weigh courthouse repair options
The Warren County Commissioners in a split decision signed off on multi-million dollar slate of repairs to the Warren County Courthouse.
Those repairs, however, don’t address the developers’ concerns of a leaky roof and the walls of the original 19th century courthouse.
Commissioner Ben Kafferlin said each commissioner has met individually with the firm ABM “to convey our desires for facilities upgrades. I don’t believe there is a consensus among the board.”
ABM Account Executive Tyler Nichols presented a capital volatility analysis to “present an accurate inventory” of the county’s assets and the condition of those assets to help the commissioners “understand your risk exposure moving forward.”
Senior Project Developer Pete Blauvelt said that many of the exterior courthouse needs “may not be self-evident or evident from street level” and said they can “see how bad things are getting.”
He explained the items would be more expensive the longer the county waits to repair.
“This roof has failed,” he added, indicating that the leaks have caused interior problems in the Main Courtroom.
The analysis graded each of the county’s assets with a letter grade – A to F.
Nichols said the grades were determined through consultation with ABM staff, third-party experts and county maintenance staff.
“The systems that will fail in the next 15 years represent a value of about $11.2 million,” he said, indicating the cost over the next five years projects to about $6.5 million.
ABM is guaranteeing approximately $2.4 million in savings over the next 15 years. That’s the funding the commissioner’s would utilize to fund the courthouse improvements.
The funding would include $1.4 in guaranteed energy savings as well as maintenance savings and operational savings.
Nichols said the county would benefit by undertaking the project now because of economies of scale on a larger project as well as savings from not conducting the work on an emergency basis when the costs would be at a “premium.”
He then outlined two scopes of work, emphasizing that they “worked really diligently to put something in front of you we would recommend.”
The “comprehensive option” – at a total cost of $5,693,019 – would replace the county’s HVAC systems, implement new jail cell doors, include a comprehensive restoration of the exterior of the courthouse, elevator repair/replacement at the courthouse and jail, restoration of the 911 Center on Rouse Estate property, increase security at the Hickory St. Annex as well as a host of other items – jail kitchen ventilation, record storage improvement, warehouse roof replacement, comprehensive building automation system replacement, county-wide HVAC cold plasma ionization, courthouse steam trap repair, LED lighting retrofit, water conservation work and plug load control work.
The base option – at a cost of $3,755,117 – “would not include (the) building automation system” and “removes the slate roof repair and replacement on the courthouse,” Nichols said. “Wood work and white work (on the courthouse exterior) would not be part of this program. Masonry repair would not be included.” He also said that repairs to the south steps at the courthouse and a roof replacement at the warehouse in Starbrick would not be included.
Kafferlin asked ABM staff “how concerned” they were about the “integrity of the walls and the roof leaking” as well as the grouting.
“It’s a ticking time bomb,” Blauvelt said. “As soon as you get to the point where you have mortar cracking, every winter… it’s going to get a whole lot worse.”
He said it would be hard to “predict failure in time” but said “it’s just a risk factor. It’s failing now. It can only get worse. In my mind, the longer you wait to address it, the more expensive it is going to become.”
The commissioners then discussed the options.
Kafferlin thanked ABM for the inventory asset, which hadn’t been completed in 15 years.
“Most people don’t seem to know that the damage is far more significant than what they can see from the road,” he said. “Now we can’t ignore it.”
He said the comprehensive proposal does not include any “cosmetic changes or any fluff. These are needs that are going to bite us…. You (ABM) are the only way I see to address the issues. We are so far behind. (There is) no way the county can catch up without taking out a massive bond.”
He noted that the third floor windows are rotting out and “starting to fall out” and argued that partnering with ABM would result in a cheaper project due to economies of scale, ABM’s project management and the fact that the county would “pay for it once in a planned way rather than dump” funds into a capital fund that is under funded. “I think that there’s an urgency here.”
He said there may have been an “opportunity” in the past to make all the repairs via grants. “The time has kind of come and gone for that.”
Commissioner Jeff Eggleston thanked Kafferlin for his work on this project and spoke in support of the base option.
“Regardless of which project we select,” he said, “it’s an enormous win for the tax payers generally speaking.”
He argued that the base option addresses “all of the major mechanical issues we have” and said that the majority of the items removed from the comprehensive option to the base option were in a courthouse feasibility study conducted earlier this year. He said there are “a lot of options we still have to mine with this project.”
The county would face a $140,000 annual payment to cover the base option – in addition to the guaranteed savings – and said that “all of the really major stuff gets taken care of.
“(I) totally understand the concerns related to the courthouse. I still think that it’s something that is going to be an ongoing effort on our part.”
“I have a completely different view of the process,” Commissioner Cindy Morrison. “This really only makes sense if the numbers make sense and I’m not sure they do.”
Morrison said this is an attempt to “hire one single company as a gatekeeper, basically giving up our control.”
She said the county maintenance staff could undertake the bidding process on its own.
“In my opinion, we’re overloading the 2020 budget,” she continued. “Some of these projects are necessary… but not all today, and not this year and maybe not next year.”
She said it would be “wise” to prioritize capital needs based on urgency.
Eggleston noted that the county spent $150,000 this year in emergent situations for replacement of two HVAC units and an air handling unit.”
Noting that would be comparable to the county part of the base option, he said the county could “see savings now and work against the savings going forward. We’re going to do this once…. It needs to be done anyway.”
Kafferlin said his “goal all along” was to remove the financial burden for capital improvements.
Eggleston reiterated that the “feasibility study (is) still a tool to be used going forward.”
Fiscal Director Eric Hern said that these types of conversations aren’t “glorious” but said that it “always costs more” when people elect to not address these issues.
“Having the ability to smooth out some of our costs in the future… is much better than crossing our fingers every 12 months to see what happens.”
Kafferlin made a motion to approve the comprehensive option which failed for lack of a second. He then accepted a friendly amendment from Eggleston for the base option, which passed by a vote of 2-1 with Morrison in opposition.