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.

Pate Funeral Home Receives Illinois Award of Funeral Service Distinction

Pate Funeral Home, of Benton, was recently recognized by the Illinois Funeral Directors Association as a recipient of its first Illinois Award of Funeral Service Distinction. There were ten funeral homes that achieved this prestigious honor for their efforts during 2019-2020.

Steven Pate

“Congratulations to all of the recipients of the 2020 Illinois Award of Funeral Service Distinction,” said 2020-2021 IFDA President Robert J. Smith, Jr. “You are an example of what is best in funeral service. We encourage every IFDA member to strive for and receive this award, and to enhance their service to the community.”

This is the third year that the association has established the awards program as a way to recognize the exemplary and enduring contributions that its members make to the communities they serve, as well as to the funeral profession. The Illinois Award of Funeral Service Distinction has been instituted to recognize IFDA members for their outstanding achievements in select areas and to promote initiatives in social and educational areas. These firms inspire future generations of leaders to higher levels of achievement.

Entries and the accompanying criteria were carefully reviewed by the IFDA Illinois Award of Funeral Service Distinction Committee. Pate Funeral Home completed stringent funeral service criteria related to Community Outreach, Family Outreach, and Professional Development.

IFDA represents 478 funeral homes and more than 1,100 individual licensed Illinois Funeral Directors and Embalmers who adhere to the IFDA Constitution and Code of Professional Conduct in addition to the Funeral Directors and Embalmers Licensing Code.

The cost of a gap year could come back to haunt you

By Terry Wilkerson
Rend Lake College President

College students have a decision to make this fall. Are online classes the best option? Is heading back to campus worth the risk during a global pandemic? Is this the best time to take a year off?

Many prospective college students are enticed by the “gap year” — an academic break for students between high school and college. With the traditional college experience in jeopardy, now is the perfect time, right? Well, it may come back to hurt your pocketbook in the future.

A study from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York estimates a student can lose up to $90,000 in future earnings by taking a gap year. This happens because a graduate would enter the job market later than they could have. They miss out on that initial year of wages as they finish college later than expected. And that wage loss can compound each year compared to the earnings of someone who entered the job market ahead of them.
“Together, these costs add up to more than $90,000 over one’s working life, which erodes the value of a college degree,” the study states.

Plus, if you are not earning money during your academic break, a gap year is going to cost you money. It may even cost you scholarships or financial aid when you do return to college if they are not guaranteed for the next year.

The traditional college experience may be out of reach, but that is no reason to fall behind. Rend Lake College’s plan for fall instruction will mostly be online learning. But at a fraction of the cost of classes offered at four-year institutions, a college student can save thousands of dollars each semester by choosing RLC.

And online classes have never been more affordable at RLC. The college has waived its online fee this fall, meaning a full-time student can save around $300 for the semester. With more than 80% of students qualifying for some form of financial aid, most students can find assistance when paying for classes.

A gap year can be enticing, but don’t let it shrink your future earnings. Continue your education in a dependable environment at RLC. Stay safe. Stay local. And save money. Get started today by visiting

Benton police make arrests

On July 25th, 2020 at approximately 2:30 a.m., Benton Police arrested Victor Troyan, age 58, of Benton for unlawful failure to register as a sex offender.

Troyan was charged and transported to the Franklin County Jail for further processing.

On July 26th, 2020 at approximately 11:40 p.m., Benton Police arrested Joshua L. Craig, age 31, of West Frankfort on an active Franklin County warrant for failure to appear.

Craig was transported to the Franklin County Jail for further processing.

On July 29th, 2020 at approximately 4 p.m., Benton Police were dispatched to the 400 block of East Bond Street in reference to a suspicious person.

Upon investigating, police arrested Laura A. Kastner, age 34, of Benton for theft, aggravated assault, and resisting a peace officer.

Kastner was charged and transported to the Franklin County Jail for further processing.

Construction bids for new Franklin County Courthouse submitted; demolition to begin on old courthouse on August 5

During action at a special meeting on Thursday, July 30, 2020, the Franklin County Board moved closer to the reality of a new courthouse when six very competitive construction bids were submitted.

The primary item on the afternoon agenda was to open the sealed bids that were picked up beginning July 1, 2020. The six bids were read aloud to the large crowd on hand for the historic event.

ICF Construction, of St. Louis, was the low bidder with a bid of $12,432,000. ICF estimated in the bid specs that it would take 500 calendar days to complete the construction with a starting date of Sept. 1, 2020.
Other bidding on the construction of the 46,000-square-foot, three-story structure included:

Fager-McGhee Construction, of Murphysboro, IL, was the next low bidder with a price of $12,515,000 and an estimated completion time of 510 days.

KNS Associates, of St. Louis, was next with a bid of $13,195,000 and a completion time of 700 days.

River City Construction Co., of Benton, IL, was fourth with a bid of $13,303,000 and a completion time of 510 days.

Poettker Construction Co., of Breese, IL, was next with a bid $13,504,000 and a completion time of 520 days.

And rounding out the bidders was Grunloh Construction Co., of Effingham, IL, with a bid of $14,529,000 and a completion time of 520 days. An important note is that five of the six bids came in below the $13.8 million dollars that has been budgeted by the county board for construction of the new courthouse.

The county board will now cut the number down to the top two or three bidders and begin an interview process on August 5, 2020 before making a final decision on the successful low, responsible bidder at the August 18 board meeting. Construction is set to begin on September 1, 2020.

In other pertinent information for county residents to know concerning the demolition of the 145-year-old courthouse, concrete barriers will be set on the inside perimeter of the Public Square on Friday, July 31, 2020. The placement of the barriers will eliminate all parking on the inside of the Public Square until the project is completed in approximately 18 months.
Demolition is set to begin on the courthouse on Wednesday, August 5, 2020. The demolition and cleanup is expected to take less than two weeks.

County officials, including judges, elected officials, county employees and board members are continuing to meet with project managers, architects and engineers via teleconference twice monthly going over construction plans and other intricate details in preparation for construction of the three-story courthouse that is expected to be completed in late December 2021.

EMA Director says Franklin County showing sharp increase in COVID-19 cases

Statement from Franklin County EMA Director Ryan Buckingham:

(BENTON-ILLINOIS) In just a short amount of time the number of laboratory confirmed positive COVID-19 cases have risen significantly in Franklin County. I want to encourage everyone to continue to protect yourself and your family by following the recommendations of the CDC and local public health officials. Personal protection is an individual responsibility, however everyone plays a key role in protecting our communities and reducing the risk of community spread. It is up to you to protect yourself and those around you. Please utilize the common recommended practices that will help us reduce the risk to those that are most vulnerable; our elders and persons with existing health conditions.

In partnership with the Franklin Williamson Bi-County Health Department, Williamson County Emergency Management Agency and State of Illinois Emergency Operations Center in Springfield, officials from my office have distributed thousands of items of personal protective equipment and supplies to first responders, healthcare providers and other critical services. We will continue to support the response to this pandemic until the threat of this disease has significantly diminished. Additionally, in conjunction with local public health officials, we will continue to distribute accurate and timely public information as needed.

I again highly encourage all citizens to continue to follow the CDC and public health guidelines to reduce your risk and slow the community spread of COVID-19. If you would like more information on Franklin County’s response to COVID-19 including updated recommendations for protection please visit

Pritzker knocks neighboring states amid uptick in COVID-19 cases in Illinois

(The Center Square) – Gov. J.B. Pritzker is talking up Illinois’ COVID-19 response by criticizing neighboring states amid an uptick in infection rates in Illinois.

Here’s a link to the story at Illinois News Network.

Madigan faces mounting pressure to step down

(The Center Square) – The pressure on longtime Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan to step down is mounting.

Here’s a link to the story at Illinois News Network.

Thoughts on quality, quantity and the kind words of a dying man

During a time of lock-downs, quarantines, rampant violence and troubling uncertainty I hope you will find a measure of solace in these words.

One year ago, my book “Offerings” was released, and what an exciting day that was for me. In fact, I saw a post on Facebook that June 1 was the one-year anniversary of my first book signing. A friend of mine posted some pictures of that happy day, a day filled with smiles, handshakes and pats on the back. The book is a faith-based, motivational book with 365 entries, one for each day of the year.

However, in honesty I have to say the experience with my book during the past year has been a mix of feelings – rewarding at times and very frustrating at others. It’s been exhilarating on some days, aggravating on others and at times downright confusing.

I have to admit that early-on I got caught up in the numbers game. How many books would I sell? How many books could I sell? I suppose every author, if they are honest, has let their mind wander and had those thoughts. I also had to fight through feelings that the number of books I sold somehow equated to the quality of my work, which involved a lot of hours and a lot of very early mornings. To date, I have sold approximately 1,500 books, far less than I thought I would sell. Again, the number of books sold was always on my mind, so this is where the frustration and aggravation come into play. Hindsight always being 20/20, I clearly lost my focus and direction on why I wrote the book.

I have shared these feelings and sought advice from some author friends of mine (David Kroese and Gary Moore) who both assured me that I am far ahead of the average for books sold for a self-published author. I was astonished to learn during out conversations that most people who self-publish sell less than 25 books, primarily to family members only. Based on that, I have done well, but the feelings of failure and frustration, based on the quantity of books I sold, still persisted.

I pray daily, and one of those prayers was that my book would reach the right hands, that it would bless people and that it would be successful. My logic was that if folks in my neck of the woods loved the book – and many, many tell me they do – other people across the country would too. When sales were not what I wanted them to be I was frustrated and confused because I felt like, and often spoke, that I believe the words of my book are God-given words, yet the sales never, ever measured up in my mind. I have struggled mightily with those feelings daily during the past year.

I admit to these deep, heartfelt feelings and struggles and I bare my soul a little today because of a text message I received, ironically on June 1 that left me (literally) without words after I read it.
Here’s the story.

On several occasions I have had people buy five or six books to give to friends. One of those instances was several months ago from a friend of mine who lives in the northwest part of the United States. I received a text message from my friend and he told me that one of the books he gave away was to a man he knows – a man I learned yesterday that has a terminal illness. The man, who is in the last days of his life, sent a text message to my friend and asked him to reach out to me.

My friend forwarded me the dying man’s text. Here’s what it said:
“Please convey to your friend Jim Muir how much his book and writings have meant to me. Other than “The Word” his book has helped me so much in these last days. It has truly been a blessing.”

I read his comments over and over, and in a rarity for me, I was speechless. His words have weighed heavily on my mind since I read them and certainly caused me to do some serious soul-searching, and also to ask God’s forgiveness about my petty fixation on book sales. Consider this: here is a man I will never meet in this life. I will never know his name, his family or his ‘story.’ Yet, on his deathbed he felt compelled to reach out to let me know that my humble book – the one that has sold ‘only’ 1,500 copies – has, in his words, “truly been a blessing” and helped him during his transition from this life to a face-to-face meeting with his Savior. His words make book sales seem very irrelevant … don’t they?

Without a thought about book sales, let me conclude with this thought. If all those long early morning hours, all the writing, re-writing, editing and proof-reading were accomplished solely to help this unknown man during the final days of his mortal life – then I can honestly tell you it was well-worth the effort. And while I don’t know this man, God certainly does!

In facing death, this man taught me a valuable lesson about life. That lesson is that “quality” always exceeds “quantity” and there is not a single thing more important than sharing the love and grace of Jesus and being a blessing in somebody’s life, even if it’s a total stranger.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and God Bless You!

Rend Lake College Board meeting highlights

INA, Ill. — The Academic Building at Rend Lake College will be getting a new roof, and the Board of Trustees have approved a contractor to do the job. At Tuesday night’s meeting, trustees approved a bid for the project submitted by D7 Roofing of New Baden at a cost of $120,450. Five contractors submitted bids for the project, which is being paid through Public Health & Safety funds.

Stipend changes
The Rend Lake College Board of Trustees updated its list of stipends to accommodate the creation of a new Early Childhood Education Facilitator stipend and a recent hire in the Men’s Head Basketball Coach position. The creation of the new facilitator position allows RLC to remain in compliance with Gateways to Opportunity Illinois Professional Development System for Early Childhood Programs.

Handbook updates
The board approved handbooks for the 2020-21 school year for RLC’s Certified Nursing Assistant, Emergency Medical Technician-Basic, Emergency Medical Technician-Paramedic, Medical Assistant, Pharmacy Technician, Phlebotomy, Radiologic Technology, Culinary Arts and Medical Coding programs.

Leadership teams defined

The board created policy concerning the President’s Executive Leadership Team and approved revisions to policy concerning President’s Cabinet and Presidents Council (first readings). The changes better reflect RLC’s organization and needs. Per policy, the President’s Executive Leadership Team serves as the senior administrative decision-making body at RLC. Members are selected by the college President, who leads the team and may delegate decision-making authority as deemed appropriate.

Agreement with EIU
Rend Lake College Visual Communication Design students have an easier path to continue their education thanks to a new articulation agreement between RLC and Eastern Illinois University. This agreement allows students to complete an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Visual Communication Design at RLC and transfer into EIU’s bachelor’s degree program in Graphic Design or Organizational Development. The agreements are effective in the 2020-21 academic year and are subject to renewal quadrennially.

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