County hires de­sign firm for courts build­ing project

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - TOM SISSOM

BEN­TONVILLE — Ben­ton County of­fi­cials plan to get back to work soon on the courts build­ing project.

County Judge Barry Moehring on Thurs­day signed a con­tract with Hight-Jack­son As­so­ci­ates to do ar­chi­tec­tural de­sign work. The county ear­lier hired the Na­tional Cen­ter for State Courts in Den­ver to pro­vide court­room de­sign.

The Quo­rum Court agreed to keep the courts down­town rather than mov­ing them to a site near the County Jail on South­west 14th Street. Dis­cus­sion on a new courts build­ing has gone on for years.

A tele­con­fer­ence held Thurs­day af­ter­noon should get the project mov­ing, Moehring said.

“We had an ini­tial ‘touch base’ call,” Moehring said of the con­fer­ence. “The next step will be de­ter­min­ing a time when NCSC and Hight-Jack­son can come into town to start do­ing their as­sess­ment and plan­ning, as well as meet­ing with all the stake­hold­ers.”

Ar­chi­tects and con­sul­tants will re­view the work done for two pre­vi­ous stud­ies com­mis­sioned by the county as a ba­sis for de­sign­ing a build­ing on North­east Sec­ond Street, Moehring said. Hight-Jack­son and NCSC will hire firms to do sur­vey­ing, en­gi­neer­ing and en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment work on the site, Moehring said.

The county’s re­quest for pro­pos­als for ar­chi­tec­tural and con­sult­ing ser­vices had in­cluded a goal of hav­ing de­sign draw­ings to the county by Septem­ber, but that has been pushed back to the end of the year, Moehring said.

“We’ll have some preliminary in­for­ma­tion in Septem­ber, but not to get to the level we need to be mak­ing de­ci­sions on fund­ing,” Moehring said. “NCSC says it’s a 16-week process for them, start­ing Aug. 1.”

Moehring wants the county to pay for the project out of ex­ist­ing rev­enue and not seek a tax in­crease. Joel Jones, jus­tice of the peace, said the Quo­rum Court needs to be­gin to look at sav­ings and bud­get cuts this fall when work on the 2018 bud­get starts.

“Barry has been very con­sis­tent in his view that he is go­ing to come at this from a non-tax method, which doesn’t re­quire a vote,” Jones said. “So the need for us to have the de­sign done in Au­gust or Septem­ber goes away. The time frame doesn’t have to be as con­densed.”

Ear­lier stud­ies have given the county a range of costs, de­pend­ing on dif­fer­ent build­ing op­tions, from $20 mil­lion to $30 mil­lion, Jones said. Jones said the county should look at spend­ing from its re­serve, and he would be will­ing to spend as much as $10 mil­lion out of a $12 mil­lion re­serve fund.

“I think Barry’s try­ing to be even more con­ser­va­tive and get that num­ber down,” Jones said. “But we know we still have some­thing to start plan­ning for, and we can start in that di­rec­tion with­out hav­ing the fi­nal de­signs. We’ve got re­serves of around $12 mil­lion, I’d say, and we’ve al­ways said that’s go­ing to be a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of how we pay for it. It was put aside for things like this. It’s been set aside, and we’ve saved and scrimped, and this is why.”

One ques­tion is whether the county will pre­serve the old Post Of­fice build­ing that houses Ben­ton County Judge Brad Kar­ren’s court­room. The build­ing was com­pleted in 1935 and has been ex­ten­sively re­mod­eled over the years to house county of­fices and now a court­room. A hand­ful of com­mu­nity ac­tivists and peo­ple in­ter­ested in his­tor­i­cal preser­va­tion have voiced their sup­port to save the build­ing, but Randy McCrory isn’t op­ti­mistic about sav­ing the build­ing.

“I was very dis­ap­pointed with the in­ter­est in sav­ing the build­ing when we tried to or­ga­nize on Face­book and other places,” McCrory said. “I don’t think a group of three peo­ple, which is what we had come out, is go­ing to be able to im­ple­ment any change. I think the old Post Of­fice is go­ing to come down. That’s what I’m read­ing from it.”

Glenn Jones, an­other lo­cal preser­va­tion­ist, echoed McCrory’s pes­simism about the fu­ture of the build­ing.

“Here in North­west Arkansas we’re a busy so­ci­ety,” Jones said. “Every­body’s mov­ing and com­ing and go­ing all the time, and his­tory falls by the way­side.”

Su­san Anglin, jus­tice of the peace, has sup­ported sav­ing the old Post Of­fice dur­ing past dis­cus­sions, and she still hopes it can be uti­lized in some way.

“It’s very im­por­tant to me that we at least look at it and, if we can, save some por­tion of it,” she said. “I’ve al­ways thought the ap­proach was that we were go­ing to uti­lize what we have. It’s also im­por­tant to me how the down­town square looks, how it’s al­ways looked. I don’t like the idea of every­thing chang­ing.”

Anglin wants public in­put on the project be­fore a fi­nal de­ci­sion is made, even though public re­sponse has been muted in the past.

“We’ve had public meet­ings where no one has shown up to speak,” she said. “But we do need to hear their thoughts.”

“Every­body’s mov­ing and com­ing and go­ing all the time, and his­tory falls by the way­side.”

— Joel Jones, jus­tice of the peace

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.