Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
The Hill County Commission is planning the last phase of work in remodeling the Hill County Courthouse, including completing a nearly fiveyear- old project on the south steps of the building it will be the third time the steps have been reworked. Trevor Smith, the local contractor recently hired to repair the problem of the stair's slope, said he expects the work on the southern steps to take three to four weeks, roughly. “Let me pour the first set and I will tell you exactly how long it takes,” said Smith, owner of Garbage Inc., during a planning meeting with the Hill County Commission last week. In addition to finishing the south steps, planned projects include installing guard rails and reopening the steps on the east side of the building and finishing the remodel of the bottom floor of the courthouse. The exterior work is planned to start as soon as new railings for the east steps are in, which the architect for the project said were recently shipped. “I am told they were shipped (July 31) ,” Paul Bishop of Building Solutions of Missoula said during the recent planning meeting. The railings had still not arrived at the courthouse as of Tuesday. Once the eastern entrance is fully open, Smith will work on the south steps, including replacing a side wall on the steps and pouring a new surface for the steps to change their slope. The county is waiting for the final copy of a legal advertisement from Bishop, so it can print the advertisements soliciting bids for the work on the ground floor. Problems from the start The work under way has been in the planning stages for at least most of the decade. The county decided to replace the south steps, which were deteriorating, and add a ramp to the ground-floor entrance on the east side to improve access for people with handicaps. The exterior work has been a problem for the county almost as soon as the initial work was completed. The first work on the east side was completed in 2003. The work on the south steps was completed in 2004, six months behind schedule. The cost of the projects was $340,000. The Hill County Commission in November 2004 filed a lawsuit against the architect and engineer claiming the work was deteriorating and had other problems, including that the railings on the side of the steps failed to meet code and the steps had insufficient slope to provide drainage. The suit claimed there were problems with the slope of the ramp on the east side as well. The engineer and architect filed a countersuit against the contractor, Phillips Construction, and the subcontractors, claiming any problems arose from their work. Last fall all parties agreed to an out-of-court settlement, with a payment totaling $410,000 made to the county. Meanwhile, the county, citing the pending lawsuit as a reason not to reopen the project to new bids, rehired Phillips Construction in a continuation of the first project to rebuild the steps and the ramp on the east side. While that was ongoing, the county also put out to bid a project to tear out the bottom level, including removing the concrete floor, and to pour a new floor. That project was designed to create additional office space and to replace a floor the commissioners said had repeatedly buckled over the years, requiring numerous patching jobs. Phillips Construction was the only bidder on that project. New problems arise In the exterior work, once new side walls and stairs were poured on the south steps, new problems were found the county said one of the new walls had been set at a slant, the barristers erected to hold lamps at the bottom of the steps were not square, and now the steps had too great a slope. The county pulled Phillips from both the steps and The ground floor project, terminating the contracts with the company, and started negotiations about the payment for the project on the steps. The work in the basement was completed by the subcontractors working at the time. The price of that project was about $367,000, including payment to Phillips Construction for the work it did on the ground floor. Hill County Attorney Cyndee Peterson said the negotiations about payments for last year’s work on the south steps and the east handicap-accessible entrance are still under way. She said she could not comment on specifics due to the litigation with Phillips. That is now proceeding to arbitration, Peterson said. Pat Phillips of Phillips Construction declined to comment on the advice of the company’s attorneys, she said. Peterson said the work done by Smith will tie into the arbitration with Phillips, with the work and the arbitration expected to be completed by October or November. Expense of the rebuild The payment for the work done will come out of the county’s construction fund, which funds all building construction or remodeling projects and only can be used for such projects. The amount in for that fund, which must be finalized by September, has not yet been set. Peterson said the payment for the exterior work, on the south steps and the east handicap-accessible entrance, will essentially be made with the original funds budgeted for the process some six years ago. The out-of-court settlement kept the county from having any additional expense over the original work completed in 2004, and will be used to pay for last year’s work and the work done this year. Payment for the new work on the east steps and the south steps is tied into the arbitration of damages with Phillips over the work done last year, Peterson said. The budget for the ground-floor remodel will be set after the county receives and reviews bids for the project. The original date planned to open the bids was Aug. 25, which will likely be pushed back due to the delay in receiving the legal advertisements. Bishop said the work done on the ground floor is being planned to prevent any lack of access. People will be able to use the east entrance and the elevator on the ground floor throughout the duration of the project, he said.