Douglas County Commission chamber renovation project moves forward with approved bid about $200,000 higher than initial budget

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

Douglas County Commissioner Patrick Kelly, seated next to Commission Chair Karen Willey, asks a question during the County Commission's meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024.

As the Douglas County Commission prepares for a new look — an expansion to five members — its meeting room’s appearance will be moving more than a century back in time, thanks to a $1.5 million renovation project that took a step forward on Wednesday.

The commission, at its regular meeting, unanimously authorized County Administrator Sarah Plinsky to enter into a $1,449,000 construction contract with B.A. Green Construction Company for remodeling the commission’s meeting chambers at the historic courthouse, and they approved a total project budget of $1,543,845.

As the Journal-World has reported, the remodeling project will take the space back to its 1904 configuration, when the dais — the bench-like structure where commissioners sit — was positioned on the south side of the room.

The project budget approved at Wednesday’s meeting is about $200,000 higher than the roughly $1.36 million price tag commissioners signed off on in December 2023. That’s partially due to struggles with finding bidders; this project only received two.

Plinsky told commissioners the county is indeed “really struggling” to get contractors to bid on projects, but that’s less an issue of material costs and more because of factors like high labor costs and a lack of workforce availability. Joy Coleman, a preservation architect with TreanorHL, agreed. Coleman said the issue is exacerbated by other ongoing large-scale projects in the area like the demolition and renovation project at the University of Kansas’ David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.

“I was not surprised but not thrilled that it came in a little over what we were anticipating or hoping for, but that is also kind of reflective of that tight bid market, I’m sure, tight labor market,” Commission Chair Karen Willey said. “I think it is time to move forward on the project.”

County Commissioner Patrick Kelly said he wanted county staff to reach out to other companies that didn’t submit bids to verify that their lack of interest truly was due to the issues outlined at Wednesday’s meeting, rather than a product of some flaw with the county’s process.

The project should be finished in approximately 280 calendar days, commissioners learned. Assuming that work begins following the County Commission’s next regular meeting on March 6, which Plinsky predicted would be the case, that would place the completion date sometime in early December, barring any delays.

While the space is closed for construction, the County Commission will hold its regular meetings in the training room at the county’s public works building, as the Journal-World has reported.

In other business, commissioners:

• Approved the Public Works Department’s 2024 Vegetation Management Plan.

The plan covers operations like roadside mowing, park maintenance, revegetation practices, herbicide use and noxious weed control. It’s been in effect since March 2022.

The original version of the plan called for a review every other year to consider public feedback, and Public Works Director Chad Voigt said Wednesday he recommended decreasing the review frequency to every four years instead after not hearing any significant feedback since 2022. Commissioners opted to stick with that every other year review cycle for now, which would align with the ongoing process for developing the county’s Open Space Plan and allow an opportunity for input from the two new commissioners joining the group at the start of 2025.

• Approved a one-time grant match of $20,000, taken from the county’s general fund reserves, for Midco.

The match is contingent on Midco being awarded a Broadband Acceleration Grant through the Kansas Office of Broadband Development. The company is aiming to utilize the grant to help front the cost of a $1.7 million project that, in part, would serve parts of Kanwaka Township and rural Eudora with high-speed broadband.

• Heard an update from government relations and lobbying services firm Little Government Relations about the Kansas Legislature’s activities at the midpoint of its legislative session.


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