Work continues on Christian County Justice Center annex

A construction crew works on a new Christian County Justice Center building on Walnut Street in Ozark. The target completion date for the South Annex of the Christian County Justice Center has officially been pushed back two months. The contractor, DeWitt and Associates, now aims to have the building complete March 1, 2019.

Courthouse construction in Christian County has been pushed back two months.

The county commission reviewed the timeline of the Christian County Justice Center’s south annex building as it approved $182,000 in contract change orders at a meeting June 28. Changes to the specifications for electrical doorframes, conduit, grouting and electronic security equipment will push the project’s target completion date to March 1, 2019.

Presiding Commissioner Ray Weter felt the county government should take ownership of a delay caused by disagreements between the building contractor, architect, sheriff’s office and other stakeholders.

“I understand how we got here, and I think it’s on the county,” Weter said.

The building, currently under construction on West Walnut Street in Ozark, will house courtrooms, office space for judges, the Christian County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, space for sheriff’s deputies in charge of securing the justice center and detention cells for inmates awaiting trials and hearings.

The 34,000-square foot building will cost $11,100,537.

The change orders came about when some of the stakeholders, particularly officers in the Christian County Sheriff’s Office, walked through the building as it was under construction in April. After the walkthrough, they pointed out concerns with the detention cell walls, doorframes and proposed locking system, leaving the county commission to agree to the $182,000 in changes in late June.

The changes came about after contracted firms such as Paragon Architecture and DeWitt and Associates met with the sheriff, deputies, staff of the prosecutor’s office and circuit judges and the Christian County Juvenile Office.

Western District Commissioner Hosea Bilyeu voted for the changes to the construction contract, but noted he wasn’t happy about the increased overall cost of construction.

“I do not think we would have had to have been here if every person had read all of the notes that came back from you all after all of those meetings,” Bilyeu said. “Certainly, looking forward, we could not sustain many of these kind of hits.”

Weter, the presiding commissioner, said he wasn’t happy to see a cost increase either. Weter is happy to see about six weeks of discussion meet an end. Weter said he doesn’t intend to point fingers over the contract increase.

“I don’t think there’s any point in that because all the people involved did the best they could. I think it was a misunderstanding of what was expected, and those things happen,” Weter said. “I’ll say every occupant of that building as far as the county staff had plenty of input opportunities, but I don’t want to go any further than that.”

DeWitt and Associates Project Manager Michael Sutton met with the county commission to explain the new construction timeline. New electronic doorframes on eight detention cells are the main culprit for the delayed completion date.

“We had a meeting with all of the subcontractors and our superintendent. Because of our delay on these doorframes, they still have not put anything up in the center of the building, and I can’t put up any of the duct work. Based off of our schedule, we were actually supposed to have that done almost a month and a half ago,” Sutton said.

Sutton explored asking construction crews to work longer days and to work on weekends, but that would cost Christian County even more, he said.

“If I escalate their time, they’re wanting me to start paying them overtime,” Sutton said. “For the next six months, I figured the would be cheaper just to extend our timeline instead of paying all the extra on the union guys. And it’s prevailing wage, so I have the higher wages.”

Christian County also changed its contract with the building’s designer, Paragon Architecture

“In light of all the extra effort required by Paragon to reflect all the soon-to-be change orders, Paragon is requesting an amendment to the contract between Christian County and Paragon to increase their fee by $24,000,” Weter said.

The increased payout in the architectural contract appeared to irk Eastern District Commissioner Ralph Phillips, though he said he understands why it is necessary.

“Not only is the county incurring additional costs to the project, we’re also incurring additional costs to your firm, which makes sense,” Phillips told Paragon Architecture Principal Architect Brad Erwin. “An additional cost for the changes, an additional cost for the architectural time, and a delay in the project. I just want to make sure we’re hitting the three big marks here.”

Weter expects more changes could come up before the justice center annex is finished. One of the rooms in the building under construction will house a security control room, where courtrooms and the building as a whole will be monitored through remote cameras.

Some of the security equipment, Weter pointed out, is not accounted for in the project budget. Items such as 55-inch television screens will have to be accounted for at a later date.

“It will come down to, ‘Well, who is going to pay for that? Who requested the expansion and the additional equipment, and who should foot the bill for it?’” Weter said.

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