June 10, 2015

Commission seeks major cuts for expansion

By Daniel Arens

Concerns over the costs to a major courthouse and jail expansion proposal led to a special meeting of the Mercer County Commission Monday, June 8, to examine any potential cuts that could be feasible for the project.
The plan proposed to the county commissioners last month included numerous different contractors and categories of work that equaled a sum of more than $11.7 million to complete the project. This is nearly $2 million more than the plan the commission had originally prepared for and had presented to the public.
Time is also of the essence, because the project will largely be funded through a $7 million state grant. This grant was held loosely for the expansion project, but will have to be officially collected; otherwise, other counties looking for state help for similar plans could seize the grant money, which would inevitably lead to the entire project being scrapped. However, if the grant was taken, then the entire amount would have to be paid back by the county regardless of the progress of the expansion.
Speaking of the need to come to some decision regarding the project, Commissioner Wayne Entze said during the regular county commission meeting June 3 that it is necessary to do something now, because many of the problems the project is designed to deal with will only keep cropping up if they are not dealt with definitively.
“You either have to redesign or you have to spend money . . . then you’re sitting there BandAiding and BandAiding, and the end result is a BandAid,” Entze said.
The special Monday meeting was called for during the regular meeting, to include Pete Filippi of Contegrity Group, the engineering and construction management firm working with the county on the project. The commissioners hoped that by sitting down with Filippi they could reach a proposal for cutting that would enable the commission to approve the state grant.
The process has been difficult, as the cuts needed to bring the cost down to the $9.8 million target zone would have to be large and affect the expansion in major ways. Although the commission has stressed security as its number one concern, there is also a large amount of mandatory updates and necessary departmental modifications that must be paid for. Some of the items must also be included for insurance reasons. The commission has included these costs within the compass of the expansion project, so that one lump sum is produced and all necessary work can be completed in a single plan.

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