County eyes federal courthouse for some of its space needs

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County eyes federal courthouse for some of its space needs

By ANNE CHRISTNOVICH
achristnovich@beaufortgazette.com
Published Tuesday, March 27, 2012   |  508 Words  |  

Facing water damage at three major county-owned buildings, Beaufort County Council members toured the federal courthouse in Beaufort on Monday as a possible solution to some of its space needs.

The county-owned building is on a list of 60 federal court sites around the country being considered for closing. The federal government leases the building from the county.

County staff suggested the building could be used for County Council meetings, school board meetings and some administrative offices. No decision was made Monday by council.

Meanwhile, the council is also weighing the future of the County Courthouse, the county's main administration building in Beaufort and the county jail, all of which have sustained water damage, according to county administrator Gary Kubic. All three repair and renovation projects combined would cost about $18 million, according to architect Miles Glick.

Kubic said he will recommend that the County Courthouse be renovated, a $13.5 million project that would repair water-damaged walls, windows and the roof. The county won an $8.2 million settlement from suing the contractors who built the courthouse with faulty stucco. Money from the settlement would be used for the renovation.

The extent of the damage, however, is unknown because much of it has occurred behind walls.

The council had discussed the possibility of moving court operations out of the building, as it might be cheaper to construct a new building than renovate the courthouse.

Glick, of Glick/Boehm and Associates, told the council Monday it would cost twice as much to build a new courthouse as it would to renovate it. He also said that doesn't include the time and money to demolish the current building and clear the area.

County staff has spent several months studying other possibilities for rebidding the project or building a new facility, but Kubic said Monday that it's time to make a choice.

He said he was concerned that the contractor for the courthouse renovation, Fraser Construction, would "eventually just get tired of waiting and drop the project."

Fraser Construction was the only one of six invited companies to bid on the project in November, Glick said.

The county detention center and part of the administration building have also been damaged by leaks. It is estimated that those two projects would cost a combined $4.5 million. Kubic said county staff is still considering options for those buildings.

He said he will release a recommendation next week that the county renovate the courthouse using money from the lawsuit settlement -- about $5.5 million is left. The county also received state and federal grants for building a new St. Helena library. That freed up $5 million that could be used for the courthouse, according to David Starkey, county chief financial officer. The courthouse renovation would still require the county to borrow about $3 million, Kubic said.

"I think it makes sense to move forward and get the job done," Kubic said of the courthouse renovation.