To build or not to build, that is the question

Converse County commissioner Jim Willox said taking the time to flesh out the economic climate right now could save the county money later – possibly $2-3 million or more – when it comes time to starting construction on phase 2 of the Joint Justice Center.

The second phase has been estimated to cost upwards of $30 million, so saving a few million would be good. At least that’s what the county commissioners’ hope could happen as they look for contractors willing to give them proposals to build the second phase.

The county has issued a request for qualifications (RFQ) through their engineer, GSG Architecture/Tim Schenk, soliciting interest from contractors who want to build phase 2, which would include the new courts building and the detention center expansion.

“We’re keeping our options open at this point. We’re not committed to build or not to build. In this economic environment, with a slowdown in the economy it could be that we see a significant savings if we go to bid. We could save 10-15% over the initial projection. If you can save $3-5 million, it’s worth having that conversation,” Willox said.

He said this round of pre-qualifiers – applications and interviews – will be used to narrow down the selection to approximately five contractors who will then be invited to bid on the project.

“Is it the right time to spend that money on phase 2? That’s why we’re exploring and doing our research. We’re putting out the RFQ to find qualified contractors. We can interview them and move on, or not move on. As an example, from those we will pick five who would go to bid on the project. If conditions are favorable we can put it out for bid or if not favorable, we can not put it out to bid. We have a few go, no-go points in front of us, points in time that we do not have to make a final decision,” Willox said.

The doors to the Joint Justice Center have been open for about three years. Last year at this time Willox said he was hopeful construction would start on phase 2 sometime this year.

“The timeline was delayed – the world has changed since March (and the coronavirus). Right now, the drawings are not quite ready, they’re at what we call 90% ready. If we move to go to bid, they’ll be at 100%. We’re working toward that. Should we go to bid, you could see construction happening on it in April,” he said.

For now, stakeholders are gauging the economic climate to see if building now – or waiting – makes the most financial sense.

Phase 2 will encompass nearly 45,000 square feet attached to the jail, central dispatch center, sheriff’s offices and Douglas Police Department. The center is located on the east end of E. Richards Street.

“It’s really about options. If we spend a little bit of time and effort to get definitive information, that’s valuable,” he said.

Phase 2, once completed, will house municipal, circuit and district courts and all support staff, in addition to courtrooms and the county attorney’s office, he said. With phase 2, which had been considered along with design work on phase 1, the justice center will be completed.

The county had been putting funds into reserves for numerous years, especially during higher income years, to pay for phase 2, just as they and the City of Douglas had for phase 1. Willox confirmed Tuesday that the county has enough in reserves to pay cash for the construction.

However, saving $2-$3 million or more would still be nice.

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