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Courthouse renovation bids come in 25% over budget

Henderson County officials sent an architect and contractor back to the drawing board after bids for work on the Grove Street courthouse came in 25-30 percent higher than projections.

The work could be significantly scaled back from original plans or rebid, county officials said. Whatever happens, the decision is likely to end up back on the Board of Commissioners agenda.
"The bids came in over budget, which is not acceptable in my world," County Manager Steve Wyatt said. "We'll be asking the architect and the engineer to meet with the low bidder to come back within budget, and if that's not doable we will look at the scope of the project."
Wyatt and County Engineer Marcus Jones said the high bids seem to signal that commercial contractors had gotten more work and seeking higher prices than they had been during the building industry slowdown of the past six years.
"Construction prices are on the rise," Jones said. "They were all close together."
The low bidder was Marsh/Bell Construction Co. of Easley, S.C., which submitted a base bid of $1.12 million plus $173,599 for six alternates for a total of $1,297,772. The high number among four bidders was submitted by Bolton Construction & Service of WNC, which offered to do the work for $1.6 million.
The Board of Commissioners wanted the work to include security, consolidating the tax offices on the ground floor and making other renovations to the 1995 building, which houses courtrooms, the district attorney, public defender, clerk of court, register of deeds and the 11th District headquarters of U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows.
"We're probably about 25 to 30 percent above where we were hoping to be," said Commissioner Tommy Thompson, who serves as the board's liaison for the project. "Now the question is what do you do. The main priority was security for the courts as well as some of the other offices, and the second was to provide space for the county offices and for all these state offices."

Running out of space

The Courthouse is already short on courtroom space, said Thompson.
He took part in planning for the building in the early 1990s when he was clerk of superior court.
"I wanted five courtrooms and the county commissioners saw fit to provide three," he said.
The Board of Commissioners is expected to set a capital building schedule starting this year and continuing in 2015. During Wyatt's tenure as county manager, the Board of Commissioners has adopted four-year plans for major building and capital improvements that run from one tax revaluation to the next. The countywide tax reappraisal will be effective for the budget year starting on July 1, 2015.
"We've got a lot of capital projects we're dealing with over the next few years," Thompson said. "The question is how far do we go here" in driving up the price. Other projects the commissioners have committed to include additions and renovations at Edneyville Elementary School and Hendersonville High School, a new facility housing the Emergency Management Services and county Rescue Squad and potentially a classroom building and labs for Wingate University's Hendersonville campus.
"Quite frankly I'm really worried about it," Thompson said of the high bids. "I don't know if we can cut $300,000 out of it and provide the county what it really needs."
The alternates the contractors bid on included moving plumbing to relocate a break room on the ground floor; moving a holding cell on the top floor; creating a separate employee parking lot on the south side of the building with a gated entry; recessing a wheelchair lift for the planned new public interest on the second floor; adding more outside exterior cameras; and adding a card-entry security system that is same as the one used at the sheriff's department.
The base bid includes the wheelchair lift, Jones said.
"Esthetically, it would be nice to inset that between the columns," he said.
Jones said the designers with Moseley Architects and the contractor have not yet reported back on their cost cutting efforts. The Board of Commissioners is expected to take up the matter again at its March 19 meeting or possibly in April.