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Commissioners order cost estimate for courthouse-jail expansion

Cooper Construction Co. President Tom Cooper speaks to county commissioners about plans for a courthouse-jail expansion. Cooper Construction Co. President Tom Cooper speaks to county commissioners about plans for a courthouse-jail expansion.

Henderson County commissioners on Monday moved a step closer to embarking on the county’s biggest construction projection ever — a courthouse-jail expansion expected to cost at least $150 million.

In a unanimous vote at the end of a 25-minute special called meeting Monday night, commissioners gave the construction management team 60 days to come up with cost estimates for the expansion and renovations of the Grove Street courthouse and jail, including options for doing the projects separately and doing the whole project at once.

The board in April chose Haskell Corp., a global design-build firm based in Jacksonville, Florida, and Hendersonville-based Cooper Construction Co. to manage construction of the Grove Street courthouse addition and jail expansion. Commissioners on Monday agreed to pay the team $90,000 to produce the estimate plus a 3.75 percent construction-manager-at-risk fee to manage the massive construction job if commissioners ultimate approve it. The key to that decision is having reliable numbers on which to base their vote on whether to greenlight the so-called Judicial Complex, Annex and Renovation project.

“Part of that process is for the construction manager to bring forward an estimate for the building based on real time numbers with local subs and their expertise on the local market,” County Manager John Mitchell said after the board’s vote. “That number will be what the Board of Commissioners uses to determine if the scope of the project is correct, if the timeline for the project is correct, and it'll be the first look at the local market and what I would call a real-world, on-the-ground number.”

Cooper Construction President-CEO Tom Cooper assured commissioners that the construction management team aims to produce a solid estimate in the 60 days allotted to the task.

“Our goal is to try to see that we can get this project in budget in a way that everyone can be happy with based on numbers they've heard over the past several months,” he said. “We're ready to get started. … Because of the relationships that we and Haskell have, we feel relatively sure that we can get a couple of strong players to come alongside us and help us get a number that we feel is as accurate as we can be in a 60-day period. And then you'll have the decision to make if you want to go to the next steps.”

The project is complicated by numerous X factors, including where to put judicial functions and other departments while the courthouse expansion is under way, how to house inmates during the jail renovation and how to accommodate parking both during construction and when the job is done. Plans commissioners approved earlier this year call for a five-story courthouse addition on the current northside parking lot.

“How that plays out is very important, because time is money,” Mitchell said. “Time brings escalation. There’s phasing, about moving people in, moving people out, renovating space, shifting in the courthouse. … We've got to give the board the opportunity to see the whole number to try and determine if it is a project that citizens wish to move forward with.”

If commissioners approve a construction project based on the estimate they get in two months, the next step would be to solicit and award bids and set a guaranteed maximum price — the same process the county has used for all its major construction projects in recent years.

“I can assure you, one thing is that we’ve got several good ideas that we feel like can be considerable savings for the county,” Cooper said. “We live here, too, and we pay taxes here.”

Commissioner Bill Lapsley, a civil engineer, had objected to the preconstruction price on the table a month ago, triggering a fresh round of negotiations. He said Monday night he was satisfied with the results of the latest talks.

“It’s been very detailed and very exhaustive,” he said. “I think it’s fair and reasonable and I think we’ve done a good service to the taxpayers.”