County board hires local contractor to build new courthouse; project comes in $2.3 million under budget

Staff Report

During action at its regular monthly meeting Tuesday night, the Franklin County Board hired a local contractor to build a new 46,000-square feet courthouse that will be located on the Benton Public Square and heard positive financial reports concerning the cost of the project.

In a unanimous vote the board accepted the low bid of Fager McGee, a well-known Murphysboro-based commercial contractor, to proceed with work on the new three-story structure. Fager McGee submitted the low bid of $12,634,000 – which is more than $1.2 million under the budgeted amount for the much-anticipated project. As part of the bid package Fager McGee estimated that it would take 510 calendar days, approximately 17 months, to build the new courthouse. Construction is expected to begin in early September.

The board also heard an upbeat report from Katie Aholt, project manager with Navigate Building Solutions, of St. Louis. Navigate was hired early in the process to help guide the county through the lengthy building plan.

Aholt said the total cost of the project, that includes Campbell Building construction, asbestos abatement, demolition, special construction, furniture and fixtures, professional services, technology, financing and miscellaneous costs came in at $18,492,297, which is $2.3 million below the projected budget cost of $20.8 million that the county board set in March of this year. The lower budget numbers include a 10 percent savings in demolition and asbestos abatement, 10 percent under the general construction cost schedule and 5 percent decrease in construction contingency from $1,384,977 to $631,700.

In her presentation to the board, Aholt stressed that Fager McGee is local and has familiarity with sub-contractors in the region and has also worked on several successful projects with White & Borgononi Architects, located in Carbondale, who drew up plans for the new structure.

Aholt said with the board’s action approving a contractor, Fager McGee will be receive “notice to proceed” which essentially starts the clock ticking on the 510 days to completion. She also noted that “liquidated damages” is built into the construction contract which could levy fines against the contractor if that time frame is not met.

Based on the new decreased budget numbers submitted by Aholt, Franklin County Treasurer Steve Vercellino presented more good news with a detailed report to the board regarding projected sales tax for the courthouse construction. In April 2019 Franklin County voters overwhelmingly approved a one-cent sales tax increase to provide funding for the new courthouse.

Vercellino said that based on projected sales tax revenue the debt for the new courthouse could be paid off as early as December 2029 – slightly more than nine years from the start of construction. The projected December 2029 is also a far shorter time period than was first anticipated. In the initial stages of planning it was projected that the payback time would be 12 to 15 years.

Franklin County Board Chairman Randall Crocker said he is “very pleased” with the cost projections, the shorter payoff period and with the progress that has taken place.

“The entire process has really gone well up to this point,” said Crocker. “We are way under budget and I can speak for the entire board in saying that we are proud and happy with where we currently are and what we’ve accomplished to date.”

Crocker gave high marks to both project manager Navigate and also White & Borgononi Architects, for the guidance they have provided to the board through the different aspects of the process.

“I think both have provided us with really good advice,” said Crocker. “We are on schedule and I am really pleased with where we are at right now.”

Board member Larry Miller also voice his approval of the decreased budget amount.

“What we are doing is good for Franklin County,” said Miller. “What we have accomplished at the Campbell Building will always be there and can be used for other county offices in the future. When the new courthouse is completed it will be a great day for Franklin County.”

In other action the board confirmed that a lease agreement has been reached for the use of a parking lot on East Church Street for use by construction workers. By utilizing the East Church Street property, the board hopes to alleviate parking on the public square and adjacent parking lots by construction workers. The property formerly house Benton Grade School District 47 offices. It’s estimated that at the height of construction 50-70 workers will be involved in the courthouse construction project. The county will pay $900 per month to Rend Investments, LLC to use the lot.

The board also hired Holcomb Foundation Engineering for material testing at the new courthouse.

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