JEFFERSON — The Marion County Commissioners Court will take action on Monday on a couple of unexpected change orders related to its historic county courthouse restoration project.
The court first learned of the surprise change orders during a Nov. 14 meeting in which five changes were revealed only 30 minutes prior to the meeting.
The change orders for consideration included: a $39,556.25 quote from ETEX Telephone for telephone wiring; a $38,000 quote from Outsource LLC for computer wiring; a $10,900 quote from Right Click Plus for security camera wiring; a $21,975 quote from Firetrol Protections Systems for security access; and a $95,750 quote from Eubanks Electric for conduits for data, computer and connections.
“THC (Texas Historical Commission grant) doesn’t cover this,” County Auditor Shana Solomon explained at the meeting.
The renovation of the downtown landmark, located at 102 West Austin St., is made possible through a $4.7 million grant awarded last spring by the Texas Historical Commission’s Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program (THCPP) as well as $1 million of county money. Work on the project began in June.
Prior to the change orders recently presented, the total renovation cost was $5.7 million.
Pct. 4 Commissioner Charlie Treadwell said the change orders posed a problem because of lack of funding.
“(It’s) $200,000 we weren’t counting on when we started this courthouse project,” said Treadwell.
To add to the anxiety, Solomon advised that in actuality, the change orders will amount to about $300,000 when it’s all said and done.
“I don’t want to lie; we’re probably going to be talking about $300,000,” she said, noting that includes the change orders discussed this month, plus the one recently made for $26,000 for window repairs.
“These items were not included in the grant and they told us that when they awarded it to us,” she explained. “The telephones, the IT, the security, none of that’s on that.
“All of that’s on us,” she said.
Solomon noted that all of the change orders will go to the main contractor, JR Jones Construction, to do an amendment to their contract since the construction company is the one overseeing the entire project.
She advised that the quote from ETEX Telephone needed to be approved immediately in order for the company to begin running the wires.
“We’re at the point where they need to run all these wires, so they can close up the walls and go on with the courthouse,” Solomon said.
Luckily, one other change, and a $26,910 quote from Eubanks Electric for a fire alarm system, was included for coverage in the grant.
Commissioners expressed their frustration with learning about the change orders in such short notice.
“That’s the problem I have with this,” Pct. 2 Commissioner Joe McKnight said.
“We had no idea of what we were looking at because I’m not a construction person, so it is what it is,” the county auditor explained.
County Judge Leward LaFleur said THC should’ve been more transparent.
Commissioners said their main concern was how the unanticipated expenses would be paid for. Solomon suggested from the county’s general fund balance.
Treadwell wasn’t thrilled with the idea.
“You keep digging in your fund balance, and digging in your fund balance and it ain’t building back faster than you’re digging in it. It ain’t long to figure this out,” said Treadwell.
Solomon reported the fund balance was at $2 million by the end of September. As of the Nov. 14 meeting, they had spent approximately $900,000 in project-related bills.
“We haven’t paid for windows yet; we’ve only been working off the grant stuff right now,” said Solomon.
Treadwell said had they known sooner, they could’ve sought bids. Pct. 1 Commissioner J.R. Ashley asked if there were any more surprises to be expected, regarding expenses.
Kevin Scott, project superintendent with Joe R. Jones Construction, assured it won’t.
“There are things that we could cut off but what it’s doing is cutting you short in the future,” Scott said.
Workshop/ Monday Meeting
While the court voted to approve the quotes for the telephone wiring, computer wiring and cameras during the Nov. 14 meeting, they saved discussion for the quote for security access and quote for conduits for data, computer and connections at a special-called workshop held this past Tuesday, Nov. 19.
The quotes will be voted on for consideration at the upcoming commissioners court meeting, set for 9 a.m., Monday, Nov. 25.
Commissioner McKnight said he agrees that conduit was the best way to protect the wires, but $95,000 “doesn’t grow on trees.”
Scott, the project manager said, the conduit will help maintain the integrity of the building for the next 20 to 30 years.
“It gives you the ability to replace, redo,” said Scott. “The way it is right now you don’t have that capability.”
At last week’s special-called workshop Treadwell asked if the conduit for data and IT communications were left out of the architect’s original specs for the job. Responding, Smith noted that it wasn’t required because those were low voltage wires.
“JRJ (Construction0 only got involved in it when ETEX requested us to look at supplying homeruns for all the conduit for future processes of the building and moving forward, to help you maintain the integrity of the building,” he said.
Solomon said one reason they didn’t bid out the job is because it’ll delay the project by at least six weeks.
Justifying the price, Dustin Eubanks with Eubanks Electric said the conduit isn’t some easy feat to conquer, but takes a lot of tedious work. Smith concurred.
McKnight and Treadwell asked Eubanks if he could do something to get his quote lower. Eubanks said he’ll examine his options by Monday’s meeting.
“I’ll work with y’all anyway I can,” said Eubanks. “I didn’t give that bid to retire on, for sure. I need y’all happy with my pricing and work.”
Regarding the $21,975 quote from Firetrol Protections Systems for security access, Eubanks noted that he went out for multiple bids for the project, and that was the lowest bid he received.
Solomon, the auditor, noted that the system will give employees access control into any door in the courthouse.
“This is like how we have security access to get in and out of the building like for us to either have name badges or key codes,” she explained. “This is just entrance in and out of the building.”
The public will be allowed only in one door.
Scott noted the system also include 15 wireless panic buttons. Concerned about the astronomical cost, McKnight asked if the new security access was a necessity since they already have a system in place.
Solomon said with the new system, people won’t be able to compromise security by leaving the door unlocked when they exit the building. Judge LaFleur agreed.
“The world’s changing every day and people are walking into the courthouse killing people all over the country,” the county judge said.
LaFleur said he’d pay for it out of his own pockets or try to raise funds for it, if need be.