Columbia County Courthouse

Remodeling of the Columbia County Courthouse at 400 DeWitt St. in Portage could push the county's biggest building project in history beyond the $45.5 million the County Board authorized for its new buildings and the renovation of the 1962 courthouse.

Daily Register file

At a time when Columbia County’s building project threatens to go over budget, the County Board’s Ad Hoc Building Committee on Wednesday considered three potential additional expenses, and approved one of them.

Shonna Neary of the county’s accounting department reported that the project is more than $563,000 over budget. The budget, about $46.5 million, includes not only the $45.51 million that the County Board authorized borrowing in 2014, but also approved additional expenditures from other sources in the county budget, including new climate-control equipment for remodeling of the courthouse and new digital videoconferencing systems for the three courtrooms.

Committee Chairman Kirk Konkel noted that the $46.5 million also includes money budgeted for contingencies – and if that money is not needed, he said, the project would not be over budget.

But if the contingency money is needed, Neary said, then the committee will likely want to consider trims in “soft costs,” such as furniture and signage.

The main features of the building project include a new three-story Administration Building at 112 E. Edgewater St., open for business since early June; a two-story Health and Human Services Building at 111 E. Mullett St., currently being used as a temporary courthouse; and renovation of the courthouse at 400 DeWitt St. for court-related uses only.

It is in the courthouse renovation where the costs are adding up.

The committee on Thursday approved upgrading the chiller in the courthouse from 90 tons to 120 tons, at an additional cost of about $29,000.

Building and Grounds Director Cory Wiegel said the 90-ton chiller could be unable to cool the building adequately on a very hot day if even one of its components is not fully functioning.

And, Konkel noted, the courthouse renovation will add new space that will need to be heated and cooled, including office space above the sallyport that will be added onto the back of the building.

For that reason, Konkel said, it makes sense to upgrade the chiller, which will be installed fairly early in the renovation process.

The courthouse and several county-owned buildings on West Conant Street have been fenced off for the renovation process to begin. Corporation Counsel Joseph Ruf said the county recently got a needed permit from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, which is required whenever there’s a demolition involving more than 1 acre. Three empty buildings, plus the county’s Annex at 120 W. Conant St., are to be razed, to make room for parking.

The secured parking area, on the building’s south side, is another place where there’s a potential for additional expenditures.

Project Manager Ron Locast of the Madison design firm Potter Lawson said he heard, at Monday’s meeting of the County Board’s Judiciary Committee, that some people who will use the secured lot would rather have an opaque fence than the open-work decorative fence that is planned, to allow them to enter and leave the building without being seen by people who might want to harass or harm them.

The secured parking would be for judges and employees of the district attorney’s office. The fence would have a locked gate.

Judge W. Andrew Voigt said not all employees slated to use the secured parking area have an opinion as to what kind of fence should surround it, but those who do have an opinion feel strongly the fence should provide privacy.

Locast said he doesn’t know what the cost difference would be between the fence that’s currently planned and an opaque fence made of a material such as aluminum or vinyl. (Locast recommended against a wooden fence, citing maintenance challenges.)

Committee member Fred Teitgen said he would be amenable to an opaque fence if it truly made employees safer, and if it looks nice.

No decision was made, but Locast was instructed to find out the cost of various types of privacy fencing.

The committee on Wednesday got a cost estimate for another addition that’s being considered – a security station at the public entry of the courthouse, to be operated whenever the building is open.

Tanner Davis of the Madison construction firm J.H. Findorff and Sons said the station itself would cost an additional $11,726. But that does not include additional computers to allow the people working at that security station to monitor images from security cameras throughout the building.

The plans already call for a security station inside the building. This would be in addition to that security.

That raises the question of whether some aspects of the interior security station could be trimmed back to offset some of the increased costs of the station at the entry.

Locast recommended, and the committee concurred, that county officials need to talk to Sheriff Dennis Richards about how he sees the operation of courthouse security once the courts are moved back into the buildings – including how many people will work and where is the most efficient place for the electronic monitors.

The committee made no decision on the entryway security area.

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