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Justice Center Expansion: Setting the Record Straight on Budget and Progress

As your county commissioner, I am committed to transparency and accuracy in all matters concerning our community's welfare. Recently, there have been misconceptions circulating regarding the budget/projected cost for the Justice Center Expansion project in Kootenai County. It is imperative to address these inaccuracies and provide a comprehensive overview of the project's timeline, budgeting, and current status.

Project Genesis and Initial Steps

The need for the expansion of our justice service court facilities became painfully evident in 2020 when two new magistrate judges were appointed in Kootenai County. In 2009, the last courtroom was added to Kootenai County (population 137,000). Now with population over 180,000 and Covid shutdowns leading to a back log of cases among other challenges with only 4 jury trial courtrooms for 17 judges. I engaged with the community through town halls to gauge the necessity of the project. There was favorable feedback by the community who choose to engage in the town halls. By September 2021, the BOCC commenced the architectural process, securing a rough estimate before the onslaught of supply chain disruptions, labor shortages, and construction cost increases. It's crucial to note that the architect's cost estimation was based on square footage and programming, not material and labor projections, as the latter falls under the contractor's purview. The architect could not predict the more than 30% increase that lay ahead. For example, the initial architect estimates in October of 2022 came in at $26,571,642 for total project cost. No one in the industry could have predicted the increase that lay ahead.

March 16, 2023, Bouten Slide, Market Conditions.

ARPA Funding and Contractual Milestones

The ARPA Task Force recommended proceeding with the project, leading to the signing of a contract with the architect in 2022. Subsequently, we initiated the process to hire a Construction Manager/General Contractor (CM/GC), culminating in a contract with Bouten Construction in December 2022. To align with ARPA and federal funding requirements, we transitioned the architect's compensation from a percentage to a fixed fee which saved the taxpayers money. 

(Please see the previous Blog posted on the explanation of ARPA Funds HERE on my website.)

Budgeting and Cost Management

In March 2023, Bouten Construction presented their initial projection for the Justice Center Expansion project, estimating a cost of $35 million construction only cost based on 30% design completion. This was unanimous decision by the BOCC to move forward. Although the price tag was significantly higher than the architect estimate, delaying the project by months or years could result in an even higher price tag.

By June 2023, this construction estimate was refined to $34.3 million, utilizing a three-work-package approach to manage construction phases efficiently. Notably, the first work package, focusing on dirt work, was completed nearly $500,000 under the projected budget.

As the project progressed, we encountered an architectural delay, necessitating a modification of the second work package. Despite this, the project remained on schedule and within budget. In November 2023, we engaged Turner Townsend Heery as the county's owner's representative to oversee soft cost projections and ensure fiscal accuracy. The representative projected an industry standard of 30% in soft costs but that never materialized.

Final Guaranteed Maximum Price and Total Project Cost

As of January 22, 2024, we have signed the Final Guaranteed Maximum Price at a construction cost of $30.5 million. The total project cost, inclusive of construction, contingency, soft costs (16%), and owner contingency, is projected at $36.2 million, assuming full utilization of the $2.6 million in contingency funds. However, if only some of the contingency is used, the total project cost could be as low as $34-35 million total project cost. The majority of the funds are coming from ARPA. The remaining funds will be covered by fund balance (the County’s savings account). Due to the BOCC’s recent fund balance assignment, the amount coming from fund balance is near $5 million. There was approximately $9 million returned to the county’s fund balance at the end of fiscal year 2023 from unanticipated revenue, interest on the ARPA and other dollars (just under $5 million), and other County funds. The taxpayers of Kootenai County have scored a big win with 58,000 square feet of justice services for $5 million in local funds.

Project Timeline Beginning in 2020 Through March 2023

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