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Stories Added - November 2008
Copyright 2008 - Polk County Publishing Company
Courthouse restoration project delayed
Trinity Standard - November 2008
GROVETON – Although the start of the courthouse renovation work has been pushed back to 2009, the exact date for work to begin is now up in the air.
During a special meeting on Nov. 13, the Trinity County Commissioners received disappointing news that the work could get underway as late as August 2009.
After being told this, County Judge Mark Evans voiced is displeasure and noted the delay would cost the county money.
He noted that the county has already leased four buildings in downtown Groveton to house county offices while work on the courthouse is underway.
While the four buildings are still in the process of being renovated, Evans noted that their owner, the Thornberry Family Partnership, is expecting to receive rent payments from the county long before August.
“The owners have invested a great deal of money is getting these buildings ready for us and they, quite rightfully, expect us to start paying rent soon. And you’re now telling us that the construction won’t begin until (August),” Evans told architect Michael Gaertner during the meeting.
“There is no way to look at this in a favorable light,” the judge added. “I am very disappointed.”
The county had originally expected that the $6.6 million renovation and restoration project would now be underway but delays caused by the Texas Historical Commission (THC) postponed the work.
THC is paying the lion’s share of the project cost under a $5 million courthouse preservation grant. The remaining $1.6 million was obtained through the sale of local certificates of obligation, which the county will repay over the next 15 years.
Gaertner told commissioners during the meeting that the project delay was created by THC but added it may be possible to speed the process up by as much as three months if he can obtain cooperation from THC officials.
The architect explained plans for the work were moving ahead fairly smoothly until this past summer when THC changed the person responsible for reviewing the Trinity County project.
He said the plans had all but reached the 100 percent completion stage and all that was lacking was for the THC reviewer to give her final stamp of approval to the last changes she had requested.
However, before that approval could be given, a new review person was brought on board and instead of looking at the final 100 percent review, she moved the project back to the 50 percent review point and began requesting a number of additional changes to the courthouse design, some of which had already been examined and rejected during the previous review process.
“We’re finally back to the 100 percent stage. In fact, I just received her final list of changes last week and we will now have to go back and redraw all of the designs to incorporate them into the plan,” Gaertner told commissioners.
He said this process would take about four weeks to complete because he will have to work with a number of consultants.
“If we have to put a hole in the floor, we have to send the design to a structural engineer to make sure the hole will work,” he explained.
In his “worst case” timeline, Gaertner had given himself six weeks to complete the building plans and gave THC four weeks to make their final review. This would have pushed advertising for bids back to March 2009 with bid being awarded in May 2009.
After Evans and the commissioners all expressed concern with that schedule, the architect said the process might be shortened.
He said if he could complete the plans by the middle of December, and if THC agrees to review them during the last two weeks of the year, it would be possible to begin advertising for bids in January 2009,
Gaertner said he felt sure he could finish the drawings by mid-December but was not sure if THC would agree to complete their review before Jan. 1.
“We’re taking about state employees and the last two weeks of the year, which includes the Christmas holiday, so I’m not sure if they will agree,” he said.
Evans said he planned to invite the THC reviewer, Bess Graham, to come to the commissioner’s next regular meeting on Dec. 8 to discuss the situation.
Under the renovation plan, the exterior of the courthouse will be restored to as close to its original appearance as possible. Interior work will include the addition of an elevator, central air and heating, new plumbing and electrical systems.
In addition, the second floor courtroom will be restored to the configuration it had when the building was completed in 1914.
In related action, the commissioners adopted the criteria for selecting a bidder on the renovation work and adopted a prevailing wage plan for the project.
Under the criteria for choosing a bidder, additional factors other that cost will be considered. While the low bidder will be given additional points in the process, the county also will look at past work performance of the prime contractor and the subcontractors in determining who will win the bid.