• Architect says project could be under way within weeks
BROOKINGS – They were more than $1 million off.
Brookings County commissioners approved a bid Thursday morning of $987,000 from Waltz Construction of Brookings to remodel and replace windows in the Brookings County Courthouse – nothing near the $2.2 million initially estimated.
Now that county offices have been moved into the new Brookings City & County Government Center, the courthouse is free to be used completely for court purposes. The commission has been working with Architecture Incorporated of Sioux Falls since June 2011 to design a renovation that would preserve the historical look of the building while creating a new jury courtroom and various work spaces.
Commissioners opened three bids for the project last Wednesday, which each include a base amount and an alternate for window replacement. Beside Waltz, two other companies bid: Sunkota Construction, for a total of $1.128 million, and Peska Construction Inc., for a total of $1.162 million. Waltz bid $817,000 for the renovation and $170,000 for window replacement.
“I have no real explanation as to why the bids came in so low under estimate,” said Mark Aspaas, architect and vice president of Architecture Incorporated.
He told commissioners that architects try to guess how difficult contractors will consider a project to be, and therefore what they’ll charge to do it.
“We assumed the worst, so that you would be protected,” Aspaas said.
Commissioners did delete one item from their original design that would have bumped up the cost: Glass walls and doors that would have created vestibules on the ground and second floor of the courthouse.
The courthouse renovation is designed to preserve the character and architectural integrity of the building while bringing the facility up to modern standards.
It will include a new jury courtroom, a new law library and meeting rooms, space for the clerk of courts and court services and reconfiguration and renovation work throughout the building.
The ground floor will be taken up by offices for the clerk of courts and court services. The second level will include a second jury courtroom, the renovation of the non-jury courtroom and the creation of an ICB conference room with high-tech communications and video equipment.
On the upper level, the remodeling will include a new law library, renovated judges chambers and a makeover for the existing large courtroom, “bringing the space back to what it originally looked like.”
Restrooms in the building will also be updated for easier accessibility.
Preserving the history of the building was a priority in the renovation design, including working with the county historical society and local preservation groups.
It will maintain existing walls, doors and other features; reuse old doors or create a look-alike when creating new doorways; and preserve all the murals and all the historic woodwork, including railings, seats and paneling.
Fluorescent lighting will be removed and new fixtures will be installed that will pay respect to the building while updating to contemporary standards.
Is there lead-based paint?
While it is $141,000 less than the next lowest, the Waltz bid has one caveat: It excludes provisions for dealing with lead-based paint.
The courthouse has not been tested for lead-based paint, and Waltz said it has no way of knowing the scope of work required to deal with this possible problem. Architecture Incorporated said it has spoken with Dave Kosbau, president of Waltz, and if lead-based paint is found and abatement is needed, this work will be performed by others, outside of Waltz’s contract.
Commissioner Don Larson made it clear he was not happy with this exception to the request for proposal, saying it left the commission with more decisions to make and a change order to approve in the future, if lead-based paint is found. He said the other two companies had chosen their bid prices knowing they would need to take responsibility for the possible paint problem.
Aspaas said the recommended 5 percent construction contingency ($50,000) would cover any paint problem. Commissioner Dennis Falken said Waltz’s approach leaves the commission with control of the paint issue, if it does arise.
Architecture Incorporated has talked with Bob Mack, a historical consultant, who said lead-based paint was not used until after World War II. If the paint is older than that, it will not be a problem, he said.
At the vote, Larson voted against awarding the contract to Waltz; three others voted in favor, and Commissioner Deanna Santema was absent.
Brookings County will have one more cost for this project, the 7 percent professional fee paid to its architect.
Fortunately for the county – and unfortunately for Architecture Incorporated – when bids came in low its fee also dropped: From an estimated $170,000-plus to $72,590.
Aspaas said Thursday that a construction meeting had not yet been scheduled, but he expects the project could begin within the next couple of weeks.
Because of the nature of the work, it should not be very disruptive to the public who use the courthouse, he said.
Contact Charis Prunty at email@example.com.