By Kathi Bliss
Construction is set to begin on the massive renovation of the former site of the WalMart building, which will be home to the Caldwell County Judicial and Service Center before the end of next year.
Last week, the Commissioners approved contracts with both the Project Manager and the Construction Manager at Risk, as well as plans with the architectural firm, topping out the cost of the project at just under $7.5 million.
Commissioner Joe Roland, before voting to approve the contracts, said that he was aware that the price tag on the project was high, but said he believed the County would never get a better price on the sweeping renovation.
At the end of the 11-month project, which is expected to kick off in January, what was once a retail store will be home to the Caldwell County courts and District Courtrooms, as well as the County and District Clerks, the District Attorney’s Office, and the adult probation offices. Expanded security in the facility will allow additional protections for judges and attorneys, conference rooms to allow attorneys to consult in private with their clients, and added security measures that will keep inmates in custody away from members of the general public.
Although the Commissioners Court unanimously approved the $7,453,661 price tag on the project, they were careful to explain that they, along with the contractors on the project, would continue to seek cost-saving measures in an effort to bring the price down.
In an effort to ease the funding of the project, the Commissioners also approved a change to the County’s general fund balance policy, which allows them to allocate over $900,000 of the unrestricted fund balance to the project.
The existing policy required the County to keep 3.5 months of operating expenses in reserve, a total that County Auditor Larry Roberson has been suggesting is an excessive amount. Changing the policy, he said, would allow the County to free up excess funds for capital improvement projects, while still protecting their interests and keeping sufficient funds in the bank for day-to-day operations.
The County’s fund balance has been at the center of talks for several years, as the balance has been growing annually into a sort of “savings account” for the County.
Roberson has long encouraged the Commissioners to change the policy, freeing up funds for necessary projects, including road improvements and building construction.
After his colleagues agreed to the change, County Judge Tom Bonn reminded them that, after the opening of the facility, additional funding would be put back on the books with the sale of the existing judicial center and tax office.
The contract with Project Manager Les Reddin, of LongLife Projects, is effective immediately, and Reddin said that work on the project is expected to begin in earnest on Jan. 6, 2014.