Pottawatomie County awards new bid for law center to Topeka firm

Times news service

By The Mercury

KBS Constructors, Topeka, was awarded the contract for the Pottawatomie County Justice Center Monday after commissioners decided to include a geothermal heating and cooling system in the project.

Following a lengthy session Monday afternoon, commissioners voted 2-1 to accept the KBS bid, with Commissioner Pat Weixelman opposed. During the morning session, Weixelman voiced opposition to the geothermal alternate because of the added expense.

Inclusion of the geothermal system forced Murray & Sons Construction, Topeka, to withdraw its bid for the project. Although Murray’s base bid of $10,697,700 was low among the 13 submitted, a miscalculation on the geothermal alternate forced the company to withdraw, owner Gene Murray said last week.

Cheney Construction, Manhattan, submitted the second-lowest base bid, but was about $100,000 higher than KBS Constructors when the two alternates were included in the project.

The total KBS bid for the 63,000-square-foot facility was $11,827,731 — a base bid of $11,246,886, plus $562,690 for the geothermal alternate, and $18,137 for the second alternate, installation of a sewage grinder pump.

The engineer’s estimate for the project was $12.2 million. The facility, to be built north of the current courthouse at Westmoreland, will house all county law enforcement functions — jail, sheriff’s office, courtrooms, county attorney and district court offices.

Commissioners debated the geothermal issue earlier in the day, with Hartwich favoring the move, Weixelman opposing, and Yenzer undecided, but leaning toward the added investment.

“This is a facility that’s going to be open 24/7,” Yenzer said. “I don’t look for savings in 2013 or 14, I’m looking 15 or 20 years down the road. That’s our job. In 15 or 20 years, the taxpayers will see the benefits of this.”

Hartwich agreed the system would save money in later years, but Weixelman said it would put a strain on the budget of not only the project itself, but perhaps other county functions, as well.

“From day one I haven’t been for it,” Weixelman said. “It’s going to throw us out of the budget. I think we can complete this project (without the geothermal) and still have $1 million in the bank.”

“I’ve thought a lot about this,” Hartwich said, noting that he made a similar decision to install geothermal when he was building his own home years ago. “I think it’s an economical way to go. Granted, I don’t want to spend the extra money, but I think 20 years from now commissioners will be thankful we put it in.”

Figures developed by the engineer for the project architect estimated the geothermal system would pay for itself in 15 years and could save the county $4.97 million in energy and maintenance costs over the estimated 50-year life of the system.

Dan Rowe of Treanor Architects did not disagree with Weixelman’s contention, however, that estimating cost savings was “not an exact science. It might pay for itself in 15 or 25 years,” Weixelman said.

As for the 50-year cost-saving estimate, Weixelman said, “you might as well go up to the crap table and roll the dice,” noting that more efficient heating and cooling systems could be developed in that time period.

Although this and past commissions have set aside $12.5 for the facility, Weixelman argued that other costs hadn’t been built into the project bid — furnishings, printing costs, cabling and communication lines, a full or part-time inspector, and potential change orders.

“Slowly and slowly we’re getting to the point where it could get messy at the end,” he said.

Yenzer, newly-elected commission chairman, was “caught in the middle” following the morning’s debate over the geothermal system.

“The guy to my right is against it and the guy to my left is for it,” Yenzer said. “I guess I’m the swing vote here.”

“Welcome to the County Commission,” Hartwich quipped.

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