Tim Leeds Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
Work has started to finish the Hill County Courthouse bottom level, which should have new office space, including for the Hill County Extension Office, the County Sanitarian and Planner Office and the Hill County Attorney, completed this year. Hill County Commission Chair Mike Wendland said last week that the final configuration is set and now being built. “It’s pretty well spelled out in the drawings, what’s there and what’s going to happen now,” he said. The handicap entrance will remain accessible throughout the project, with a corridor leading from the eastern doors to the elevator and stairs while construction is occurring. The project has been nearly a decade in the planning and several years in the construction, with several legal actions delaying the work. 6 years construction problems The reconstruction began with work on the south steps leading to the courthouse’s main entrance and work on the handicap-accessible entrance on the east side. Those projects, completed in 2003 for the east side and 2004 for the steps, led the county to file a lawsuit against the engineer and against the architect alleging the work did not meet codes and specifications. The engineer and architect both filed countersuits against the contractor, Phillips Construction. Work to repair the steps began in 2007, with the county continuing the contract with Phillips Construction to do the work, citing the pending lawsuit as a reason not to reopen the bid. Phillips was the only company to bid on work to tear out the floor and walls of the bottom level of the courthouse, work on which also began in 2007. The county later halted work on the steps, citing additional problems, and canceled the contracts with Phillips on both the outside and bottom- level projects, The work on the bottom level was completed by subcontractors Garbage Inc. and Nault Plumbing and Heating Inc. The county is in negotiations with Phillips Construction on payment for the work to be completed on the steps and the east entrance, work on which is expected to begin later this year. Hill County Attorney Gina Dahl said the payment to the contractor for those projects, Garbage Inc., and the negotiations with Phillips on its work done previously are tied together. The final negotiations with Phillips will be contingent on the expense of completing the steps, Dahl said. Funding a decade in the planning The county still has funds for the work to be done on the steps and east entrance. The original project was settled in an out-of-court arrangement with all parties contributing to A $410,000 settlement, which is still being held for completion of the project. Those funds are part of the county’s construction fund, which is restricted to funding all building construction or remodeling projects for the county. The county began planning to set aside funding for that project in the initial planning for the projects, which the commissioners say began in the late 1990s. The work done in 2008 on the ground floor has been paid, with a total cost of about $367,000. Commissioner Kathy Bessette said this morning that a meeting was scheduled for today in which some details of the construction and pricing fwould be discussed. The final cost of the ground floor contract has not yet been determined. Bringing back ground floor offices The work done in 2008 on the ground floor was successfully completed, preparing for the work now being done by Havre companies including SM Construction, Rude Sheet Metal, Schine Electric and Nault Plumbing. A major part of that project was rebuilding the floor of the level, which had buckled repeatedly over the years since the courthouse was completed more than 90 years ago. The new floor was designed to prevent that buckling, and includes new plumbing and heating systems. The rebuilding now occurring will create new office space on the ground floor. One set of offices will be for the Hill County Attorney’s office, which the commissioners say is severely short on space in its current third-floor location. The new configuration will also include space for the Hill County Extension Office and the office of the Hill County Sanitarian and Planner, which have been relocated to the Courthouse Annex on the corner of 3rd Street and Fourth Avenue while construction is completed.