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[December 06, 2012]
Montgomery County will spend $550,000 to renovate east probate/revenue rental space
Dec 06, 2012 (Montgomery Advertiser - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- The Montgomery County Commission has decided to move forward with the relocation of the east probate and revenue offices, a project that will require more than $550,000 in renovations to rental space.
In February, the commission signed a five-year lease agreement with the East Montgomery Investment Co. for the offices' new rental space. The intent was to move the east probate and revenue offices, currently housed together at 5340 Atlanta Highway, to a bigger, more accessible building across the street at 5449 Atlanta Highway.
The project was delayed for several months because of high renovation cost estimates. Initial estimates were more than $600,000, and county commissioners worked with the architect to change materials and prioritize work in an effort to bring the cost down.
In August, the commission capped the cost of the project at $289,700 -- the last estimate before the project went out to bid. The lowest bid was from Prattville-based CannDauson Construction Co. Inc. for $511,340, which doesn't include the alternative bids for things such as data cabling and a firewall. The project likely will cost about $555,000.
"I don't think we're going to have a choice," County Commission Chairman Elton Dean said. "We probably could have done some things different, but we're going to move forward and get it open." Dean, who said the commission signed the lease under the impression that the renovations would cost about $100,000, said he doesn't want to blame anyone for the project's high cost and delay.
"(We'll) take the blame ourselves for not monitoring it like we should have," Dean said. "I think we did the right due diligence to try to get the cost down. In today's economic times, things really do cost more." John Mitchell, the county's deputy administrator, said the project needs to move forward before the cost of material goes up again in January.
"The estimate is based on what's going on at the time," Mitchell said. "When the contractors come in and bid, they go with the current (material) prices and subcontractor costs." Mitchell said all but two of the seven alternative bids will be necessary for the project. Data cabling, which is needed to be able to use computers and phones, will cost about $23,000. The test and balance report needed after the heating and cooling system is installed will cost about $1,310.
The other alternates, which are required by fire code, include a firewall for $1,650, fire suppression, emergency lighting, power and heating for the back of building for $5,000 and replacing the rooftop HVAC unit over the revenue side of the building for $7,440.
Mitchell said he plans to negotiate with the rental company to try to get them to pay for the three items required by code. If the company agrees, the county could save about $14,000.
The non-necessary items include card readers, which will be used by employees instead of keys to get behind the counter, for $852, and a unisex employee bathroom for $4,500.
The total cost of the project will be between $535,650 and $555,092.
Mitchell said the renovations should take about three months. The probate and revenue offices have to vacate the space they're currently in by April 30 so Faulkner University, which owns the space, can make renovations for the Montgomery County Cooperative Extension Service to be able to move in.
The commission signed a new five-year lease in August with Faulkner for the same space. The university agreed to make renovations to the space at no up-front cost to the county , Mitchell said. Some of the cost is incorporated into the county's lease.
As the situation has gone on, the county has had to start paying double rent on the two facilities. The county so far has spent $20,000-$25,000 in rent for the new space, in addition to rent for the space the east probate office is currently in, Mitchell said.
County Attorney Thomas Gallion said trying to get out of the lease with the East Montgomery Investment Co. would be like "throwing money down a rat hole." "It's one of those things," Gallion said. "Once a contract was signed, it was done." Gallion said he gave his legal opinion on the lease before it was signed, but he was also under the impression that the cost would be significantly less than it turned out to be.
There was controversy over whether Chief Probate Clerk Wells Robinson ever gave the commission an estimate on the renovation costs before the lease was signed. There are no documents or records in the County Commission's meeting minutes that indicate Robinson gave the commission any figure, or said the cost would be less than $100,000.
Gallion said the County Commission "never acted in bad faith." Gallion said it's key that the County Commission and administrators be in charge of negotiating contracts in the future. He said the commission is the keeper of the buildings and has the sole authority to negotiate contracts and make decisions about space.
The commission will vote on awarding the bid at its Dec. 17 meeting.
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