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County raises joint project cap by $10 million

The Henderson County Board of Commissioners last week raised the cap on the cost of a new health sciences building by $10 million, saying up to $26 million could be needed if Pardee Hospital requests all the space it is entitled to.

The board's action fulfilled a legal requirement to set a limit on how much the county could borrow to build the facility, which is being designed jointly for Wingate University and BRCC classrooms, labs and offices and Pardee clinics.
"In a construction project when you don't yet know how many square feet it's going to be it's really tough to come up with a maximum price," County Attorney Russ Burell said. "The reimbursement resolution originally said $16.5 million. That would have been a good a guesstimate but for the fact that the agreement also sets out that Pardee may ask for an additional 25 to 30,000 square feet. Twenty-five to 30,000 square feet aren't free. ... Understand that no one holds anyone to this number. It is just a maximum 'cannot exceed under any circumstances.' You're throwing a number at a dart board."
Commissioners voted unanimously to raise the maximum borrowed amount from $16.5 million to $26.5 million.
During a kickoff meeting for planning and design on April 15, representatives from all five parties began to look the potential space requirements.
"And as a part of that meeting (chief strategy officer) Kris Peters with Pardee was there and indicated that Pardee might well be interested in proposing (25,000 square feet)," County Manager Steve Wyatt said.
The building needs to start soon because under the agreement it has to be ready for classes in January 2016.
"I made it clear that they need to make that decision this month, and they have to get on your agenda at your first meeting (in May) because the process is rolling on," Wyatt said. "The issue that I've got is the time. We can't wait on anybody."
Pardee is exploring the options for up to 25,000 square feet of space it is entitled to request under the agreement, Peters said.
"We're working on our part of it," she said. "We need to work with our process. We do need to move through our board approval process this month as well." The hospital's strategic planners and its board can review and approve proposals in time "to meet any and all county deadlines," she added.
Commissioner Tommy Thompson said he expected the Pardee Board of Directors to take up the topic during its regularly scheduled this week. The Board of Commissioners, which called off its May 5 meeting, is expected to discuss the next steps on the capital project on May 12.