No place to sit in new court facility

By The Mercury

“All rise!”

That familiar courtroom phrase may have become unnecessary in Pottawatomie County since the contract for the new justice center doesn’t include seating for the two courtrooms.

District Judge Jeff Elder discussed the issue Monday with county commissioners, who authorized the judge to proceed with obtaining prices for seating for jurors, counsel tables, the court clerk and court reporter.

“I thought all the seating except the judge’s chair was part of the contract,” Elder told commissioners.

When he learned differently, Elder said he began researching prices and located an Illinois manufacturer who could produce the 42 wooden chairs needed for both courtrooms for an estimated $24,000––about one-third the price of another vendor he had been working with.

The price does not include tables and seating for the two jury deliberation rooms, and commissioners expressed a desire to seek proposals from local cabinet makers for the tables.

Also regarding the justice center, Trisha Fruendt of SMH Consultants said the general contractor, KBS Constructors, is still negotiating with the surety company regarding a new masonry subcontractor.

KBS dismissed the original subcontractor several weeks ago for missing critical deadlines, and a two or three-week delay could now turn into an eight-week delay, Fruendt said.

Currently, the jail area is the only work that’s being impacted, and KBS doesn’t believe the mid-June completion date is in jeopardy yet.

“If it gets beyond mid-February (without a new masonry subcontractor) you have issues,” Fruendt told commissioners. “That’s my opinion.

The commission also approved four of five change order requests presented by Fruendt.

In other business Monday:

• County Counselor John Watt said he sent 193 “courtesy letters” to delinquent taxpayers alerting them another tax foreclosure process would begin in late summer.

The letters resulted in numerous calls to Watt, the treasurer’s office and appraiser’s office from citizens delinquent on property taxes, he said.

• The commission authorized Leu Lowrey, public works director, to submit a grant application to KDOT’s High Risk Rural Roads Program for funding to improve the sight distance near the intersection of John Scott Rd. and Flush Rd., north of U.S. Highway 24.

The grant, if approved, would pay for 90 percent of construction and inspection of the project, estimated at $293,000.

• County Attorney Sherri Schuck and Andrea Karnes, office manager, said 1,322 cases were filed through their office in 2012––an increase of 136 cases over 2011.

“We did file a lot of cases in 2012, and a lot of that came from the Stampede,” Karnes said.

The commission also approved the county attorney’s request to reclassify an employee from office assistant to legal secretary, resulting in a pay increase from $12.03 to $12.65 per hour.

“The bottom line is we have increased cases and that creates a lot of work for secretaries,” Schuck said.

• Jeff Hancock of SMH Consultants reviewed the proposed streetscape project for Westmoreland’s Main St., with an estimated cost of $1 million.

Hancock said grant applications through KDOT’s Transportation Enhancement Program are due February 15, and the community won’t know until this summer if the grant has been approved.

“I think this one stands a very good chance of getting funded,” Hancock said, citing community support, the relatively small size of the project, and the fact that Westmoreland is the county seat and two other communities in the county––Wamego and Onaga––have received funding for streetscape projects.

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