With several major facilities projects in progress or planned for the near future, Grant County officials are looking at the big picture of how to fund the projects and what other needs may arise.
Grant County Commissioners and Grant County Council met in a joint session last Wednesday, July 8 to discuss the status of various projects. Commissioner Mark Bardsley said a facilities working group including himself, Councilmen Mike Scott and Shane Middlesworth, County Administrator Justin Saathoff and Maintenance Department Director Vince Beneke identified ongoing projects and estimated costs.
According to Bardsley, the renovation of the Juvenile Detention Center (D-Home) to house both up to 14 juveniles and up to 92 female inmates is projected to cost from $1.2 million to $1.4 million. Phase 2 of the central dispatch technology project, which includes installing three towers across the county for better propagation, is projected to cost $3.7 million.
Continued upgrades at the central dispatch building (the former Salin Bank building in downtown Marion) to better utilize the space is projected to cost nearly $2 million, and Bardsley included the $750,000 loan that was taken out for the central dispatch renovations for a total of approximately $7 million in current facilities projects.
“We’re currently tapped out you could say or maxed out on the amount we could borrow so the only other choice to proceed with this central dispatch phase two would be through a bond or through a lease to purchase of some type,” Middlesworth said. “That got my brain working to think you know what other items down the road are going to come up that we won’t have the cash on hand to take care of? So that kind of falls into more leaning toward a bond issue, and that’s kind of where that all started.”
Bardsley said the working group determined the county should look at other potential problems or issues facing the buildings and include any issues that are projected to cost $100,000 or more with whatever funding mechanism is used to pay for the current projects, such as a bond issue.
Terry Burnworth of Pyramid Architecture, the county’s project managers for the central dispatch project, explained the cost for the Phase 2 towers for the central dispatch increased by $1.3 million to approximately $3.7 million total due to increased costs so that the towers can be used for broadband internet capabilities and include the latest upgrades for public safety radio frequencies.
Middlesworth asked if potential third party businesses seeking to use the towers for broadband could lease the towers and/or pay the cost for the broadband additions when it was wanted. Burnworth said he has already heard some interest from local vendors regarding leasing the towers for broadband, but the county will most likely have to assume the cost for building the broadband capabilities since it will be part of the architecture and structure of the tower itself.
“We feel like the towers and the central dispatch are very important and I think it’s very important personally to finish that propagation issue for officer safety and also to fulfill our commitment to the public safety,” Middlesworth said.
Burnworth also gave an overview of all of the county’s buildings and usage of the buildings, and noted the Salin Bank building is only about 50 percent used right now. He said the building is in need of roof, HVAC, plumbing, parking lot, elevator and other general upgrades so the county can properly utilize it, and estimated about $1.99 million in costs for all of the repairs.
Burnworth recommended an additional $250,000 expenditure to build a pole barn at the current site of the Highway Department Garage Facility on Garthwaite Road in order to sell a current Highway Department storage building on Meridian Street. This would eliminate the need for department employees to transfer equipment from one site to the other when seasons change, he said.
Middlesworth and Bardsley said Highway Department Superintendent David White has requested building a pole barn on the garage property in the past.
County officials also heard a presentation from Ameresco, who previously worked with the county on jail renovations and other projects, about what is needed to renovate the D-Home to house female inmates. Bardsley had previously said the originally estimated price tag of around $250,000 for the renovations is now closer to $1.2 million to $1.4 million due to underlying infrastructure needs at the facility.
Brad Driver of Ameresco said in order for the building to handle doubling its population to up to 92 inmates plus the 14 juveniles, there are several improvements that need to be made, including replacing HVAC rooftop units, hot water boilers and a chiller. Ameresco’s plan would also include outfitting the entire building with LED lights for energy savings and less maintenance needed and additional security cameras.
Scott asked if the cost could go down if the county instead planned to make the facility house up to 50-60 females rather than 92. Driver said the capacity and costs associated with the infrastructure would go down in that scenario, but he cautioned that most of the HVAC equipment is original to when the building was built in 1999 and nearing the end of its useful life anyway.
Sheriff Reggie Nevels said while all 92 beds may not be needed right away, he expects trends in crime will continue upward and the number of inmates will continue to rise over the years. If there are any empty female beds, the county could potentially gain some revenue by filling the facility with inmates from surrounding counties, he said.
“Nothing against you, sheriff, but we were told that when we were building the detention center that we would be housing all these juveniles and it never happened,” Scott responded. “I would rather plan not. If that happens then that’s fine, it’s extra, but I don’t think we move forward with any plans that we would generate any extra revenue on housing additional inmates.”
Nevels also reminded officials that the renovations will require the hiring of additional staff, but as of last Wednesday the sheriff’s department was 18 employees short of full staffing.
“That’s the major holdback,” Nevels said.
Scott said with all of these projects, he wants to be thorough and look at what the future needs will be.
“I’ve sat in on a lot of meetings where somebody has come in asking for more money because it wasn’t included, or oops that wasn’t included, we need $500,000,” Scott said. “I think at this point in time we need to get a firm handle on what that looks like in the near future...and know what we have so when we get into these projects we don’t overlook maybe a system that’s 10 years old and by the time after two years when this renovation is done we need to replace this too.”
Beneke said outside of the major projects discussed, the county annex building is in need of a new chiller as well as a replacement fire alarm panel, both of which would be above the $100,000 threshold for being included in a potential bond issue. The jail also needs to replace a boiler, he said, and overall the maintenance department could use more employees to keep up with all of the county’s buildings.
Middlesworth and Bardsley said the needs and potential funding will be an ongoing discussion between council and commissioners.