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County annex price trimmed, but still over budget
Bulloch County Seal PNG

After trimming by construction managers, projected costs for a new Bulloch County administrative annex still exceed its $2.2 million budget by $300,000.

At a called meeting Monday, county commissioners heard from Lavender & Associates, the Statesboro-based construction firm handling the project on a construction management basis.

"We're at the point where this number is very accurate for what we have on the plan," John Lavender told the commissioners. "To save any considerable money from here, the plan is going to need to be altered - lower square footage, that type thing — fairly drastically."

With Lavender providing "at-risk" construction management, his firm and the county will need to amend their contract with a revised maximum price before work can proceed. Bids from subcontractors have not been locked in yet, and no vote was taken.

But commissioners expressed support for the project moving forward as planned.

"With the economy improving, especially in Bulloch County as we certainly hope that it is, now is probably still the cheapest time to build the building," Commissioner Roy Thompson said.

County Manager Tom Couch had suggested that the extra money might be gleaned from savings in other sales tax projects or increased revenue he hopes will result from an improving economy.

Prices for materials and labor, plus a 5 percent contingency fund, initially added up to more than $2.9 million. Lavender and his firm's manager for the project, Warren Holland, then worked with architect Kevin Palmer on some "value engineering" changes in the plans. Theses reduced the projected cost to $2,546,796.

But the county commissioners currently have $2.2 million in Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax funds budgeted for the project.

Designed as a steel frame and masonry exterior building measuring 13,437 square feet, it will be built beside the Board of Commissioners headquarters, known as the North Main Annex. The county purchased an old motel there two years ago and tore it down to make room.

The commissioners and county manager's office will remain in the existing building, but the new one is slated to become home of the tax commissioner's and assessors' offices, now in the North Main Annex, and the elections and voter registration offices, now in the courthouse.

To achieve the almost $400,000 in "value engineered" savings, the construction managers reduced the amount of cast stone to be used, altered how some insulation will be installed, eliminated internal roof drains and four windows and made changes in planned lighting, among other things. They also removed $9,500 budgeted for "window treatments." In other words, there's now no money for blinds, but Holland said reflective glass should reduce the need.

The county doing the grading on the site accounts for a $70,000 reduction.

The $2.2 million came from allocations in the SPLOST that ran for five years starting in 1997 and the SPLOST that began in 2007 and expired last fall, Couch said.

The new six-year, 2013 SPLOST that began collection last fall could supply the additional money. But it will have to come either from savings in budgeted projects or from Tier 2 money, Couch said. Tier 1 dollars, dedicated to new priorities, are those within the first 80 percent of the maximum the tax is projected to collect during the six years.

Tier 2 revenue is anything that exceeds that. The new SPLOST is projected to generate about $82 million, but the county budgeted its share on 80 percent of that projection. The previous SPLOST, which ran through the Great Recession years, did not generate any Tier 2 funds but came close to the 80 percent mark.

"Surely in the next six years we're going to have a recession, but my hazy crystal ball says I hope it's a lot milder than the last one. ...," Couch said. "We are starting to see some signs of recovery this year. I don't know if we're seeing it in our sales taxes yet."

So, he said, he thinks the county should receive some Tier 2 money to apply to the building.

If not, the needed funds could be taken from the $125,000 to $150,000 set aside annually for major, unexpected maintenance projects such as roof replacements, plumbing disasters or heating and air-conditioning failures. Or, Couch said, projects such as a roof at the Bulloch County Correctional Institute, budgeted for $250,000 from SPLOST, or fire safety equipment for the jail, budgeted for $200,000, may come in under budget.

Commissioners discussed, but did not propose, either changing the building to a wood-frame type or making it smaller.

The planners said a wooden structure that size could cost about as much as a metal-framed one. Commissioner Anthony Simmons said he doesn't want a wooden building and thought the planners had done a good job reducing costs.

"We do want a quality building," Simmons said.

"Tom's going to find the money somewhere," he added a moment later, getting some laughs from other commissioners.

With plans being revised to reflect the changes and the contract to be amended, Couch said he expects another 30-60 days will be needed before construction.

Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.


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