Douglas County leaders approve budget for courthouse meeting room remodel project, authorize staff to solicit bids for construction

photo by: Douglas County screenshot

This rendering shows what the renovated meetings chamber at the Douglas County Courthouse could look like once a project to remodel the space is complete.

Douglas County leaders on Wednesday took the next step in the process of remodeling the meeting chambers at the Douglas County Courthouse.

At Wednesday’s Douglas County Commission meeting, commissioners unanimously approved the budget for the project and authorized staff to proceed with soliciting bids for construction proposals, which could happen by early January. The project will include restoring the entire room, but the reason it was initiated in the first place is to accommodate the shift to a five-member commission, which voters approved in 2022’s November general election and will take effect starting in January 2025.

Douglas County Administrator Sarah Plinsky said the county is estimating that construction will take six months to complete. While renovations are in progress next year, Plinsky said County Commission meetings will be held in the training room at the county’s public works building.

As the Journal-World has reported, the remodel carries a price tag of just under $1.36 million, but some of that cost is already covered. The project has been submitted to the Kansas State Historic Preservation Office in pursuit of historic tax credits, a request that was approved last week and will be one avenue in offsetting the overall cost. That will allow the county to claim tax credits on eligible expenses, mostly elements like flooring, electrical wiring and other elements attached directly to the room.

According to agenda documents from Wednesday’s meeting, the historic tax credits should come in at an estimated $172,836, and the county will also have $135,268 in insurance settlement money from damage that occurred when a contractor was working on the sprinkler system in October 2022. All told, that leaves the project with just over $1 million in remaining costs, which are planned for in the county’s capital improvement projects budget.

Joy Coleman, a preservation architect with TreanorHL, is part of the design team for the project and told commissioners that the majority of the project’s cost is a result of the extra labor costs required for historic renovations.

“In general, the Secretary of the Interior’s standards have rehabilitation guidelines and those tell us that we should retain historic material, we should repair instead of replace, we should fix the damage in kind,” Coleman said. “… The cost that you see is in labor, so where a new building would have more of a cost in materials or transportation of those materials to the site, what you see in historic or even in existing renovation is more labor costs.”

The project will address some long-term maintenance issues with the room, including some related to the water damage the courthouse sustained during the sprinkler incident. But those issues also extend to damaged and cracked plaster, paint streaking and the replacement of a damaged ceiling panel system.

Renderings call for returning the room’s layout to what it looked like more than a century ago in 1904 — at that time, the dais where commissioners sit was positioned on the south side of the room with the bench seating for members of the public positioned between there and the double doors to enter the room.

While the layout will revert to its former form, the dais itself will be expanded. The plan is to add wings on either end that meet the character of the existing dais. It’ll also be made ADA-accessible; the current dais has a step up on either side.

photo by: Douglas County screenshot

This rendering shows what the dais where commissioners sit will look like with wings added on either side for the two new members joining the Douglas County Commission once it’s expanded in 2025.

In other business, commissioners:

• Heard a work session update on progress with design consultation and project direction for the county’s $100 million-plus Judicial and Law Enforcement Center renovation project and, later during the business meeting, unanimously authorized moving forward with a $60,000 contract with J.E. Dunn Construction for pre-construction services.

Jay Zimmerschied, the county’s director of capital projects, told commissioners that the contract with J.E. Dunn Construction is structured in two phases, the first of which is the pre-construction phase the project is in right now. The $60,000 in spending approved Wednesday night covers only that phase; the second phase, when construction would actually take place, will proceed only after the County Commission approves a budget for the project at a future meeting.

• Unanimously approved a grant agreement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for $321,032 over a 15-month period to provide rental assistance and support services for chronically homeless individuals in Douglas County.

The grant will serve up to 12 individuals with $108,432 in rental assistance and $187,600 for supportive services including access to a full-time program manager who will provide individual case management. The remaining $25,000 is dedicated to supporting administration costs.

This will be a new endeavor for the county, Assistant County Administrator Jill Jolicoeur told commissioners. There’s currently no HUD-funded permanent supportive housing in Douglas County, and Jolicoeur said the intent is for this grant to launch a new program to do just that.

“It’s going to be a big challenge, but it’s very necessary, very needed, and it will in a lot of ways be experimental, but we’ve got a lot of good will and a lot of good partners that want to do this work and we’re excited to move forward and learn some things,” Jolicoeur told commissioners.

Jolicoeur added that fulfilling the obligations of the grant means that the county will be “virtually guaranteed” to receive another round of the funding after the grant period expires. She said the county has already applied for the funds for that next round.

• Unanimously approved the county’s annual legislative priorities statement.

A week ago, commissioners delayed taking that action after Commission Chair Patrick Kelly asked to see language added to the statement regarding the “Student Survey Bill.” He said he was satisfied with how the issue was resolved ahead of Wednesday’s meeting.


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