County puts brakes on courthouse project

Plans for a new courthouse building in Rogers City have been stopped after commissioners discovered the only way the county will be able to pay for it would be through a voter-approved milage.

by Angie Asam–Staff Writer

The Presque Isle County Board of Commissioners put the brakes on the courthouse renovation project. At a special meeting Friday, the commissioners halted all work on the project as it has discovered the only way it will be able to pay for a new courthouse is to go for a voter approved millage.

“When we just recently went over our budget we realized that some of the revenue that we anticipated is not there. We were told that there may be $750,000 to a million dollars to make a down payment on this project but that isn’t so,” said chairman Carl Altman.

During the meeting Friday the commissioners spoke to Lisa Wrate, architect from U.P. Engineers and Architects (UPEA) who is working on the project as well as her project manager Pat Coleman.

“The last time I was there you directed me to meet with the staff again. From that meeting I got to the point where I realized that the first floor with the treasurer, register of deeds and equalization department just didn’t fit. At that point I stopped to evaluate whether this idea of building over the jail just gets abandoned and we go with the other solution of building another building, getting the construction done in one year and tearing the existing courthouse building down after it is done and you are moved in. In the instance of cost and time that is the most efficient answer,” said Wrate.

In 2002 the county board had plans done by Harrison Landmark that involved building a new courthouse building adjacent to the current building, tying that into the annex and then tearing down the old portion of the courthouse. Those plans were ready to go to bid when a millage was shot down by the voters.

Last year the board hired Trinity Architecture of Gaylord to come up with a new plan which involved building over the jail and then tearing the old courthouse down. It then hired UPEA to review the Trinity plan and take it a further step, which they have been working on.

“You know what I was thinking at the meeting when you were here, it didn’t sound to me like that was going to be a good thing to build over the jail because you had to make too many concessions, do too many extra things to make that work,” said commissioner Kris Sorgenfrei.

Some of those issues were that the Michigan Department of Corrections requires all jail cells to have natural light. As well as the idea not to penetrate the walls or ceiling of the jail, thus all utilities would have to be run between the existing jail roof and floor of the new construction, which would require a crawl space and possible maintenance issues in the future.

WRATE ALSO told the commissioners that with the existing idea of building over the jail it would be stuck with an envelope, a certain amount of space that it would have to fit the offices into, which means everyone is being squeezed a little bit to fit. If it goes with building new, it will be able to design by need and fit it accordingly.

Wrate has copies of the Harrison Landmark plans from 2002. “It seems like this solution was definitely a better solution than the Trinity plan,” she said. Wrate also discussed that some of the basement storage and additional space that was in that plan could be cut as well. She would just need larger copies of the plans to work with.

Going with a plan similar to the Harrison Landmark plan would cut two years off the construction time and some of the work that has already been completed by UPEA would still figure into that plan, thus the cost of having them do the work wouldn’t be as great.

“There is no sense getting into this all over again. We’ve already determined that we’re not going to be able to pay for this without a millage,” said commissioner Bob Schell.

Wrate said the Harrison Landmark plan was to build a building with 35,000 square feet. Through her meetings with the staff she feels the county would need about 18,000 square feet. Some of the square footage of the original 2002 plan allowed for future expansion and didn’t take into account the three offices that have been moved to the annex building (formerly Nowicki’s).

The county board has gone around and around about how to go about this project. It wasn’t sure if the county should figure out what a building would cost and then figure out how it would fund it or if the county should get funding and then build with the funding it has.

“We have to go for a millage, it’s the only way the building will get built. We realize here and it is harder to convince the public, the taxpayer, that this building is dangerous for our workers to work in. We’ve been beating our heads for the last eight years and we thought we had enough to get by with our revenues for 10 or 15 years to do this project but we don’t have the money. We do have to build a building to bring safety to our workers. We’re stuck between our health and safety here of our workers and trying to convince our taxpayers that we’re going to cost them a little more every year on the tax roll to supply a safe building for our workers,” said commissioner Mike Darga.

UPEA will be putting together a new cost estimate of bringing the Harrison Landmark plans up to date. For now they will not do any more work on the plan other than getting that cost estimate to the county for consideration. The original contract with UPEA included bid and construction management. Those costs should be lower with the idea of having one year of construction as opposed to two or more for construction over the jail.

The county does owe UPEA money for work that has already been completed, which it will pay. The board is simply asking UPEA write up a letter with cost estimates for redesigning and modifying the 2002 plans to fit the county’s need.