Tuesday, April 23, 2024

$70,000 paid out, courthouse project study almost done

After more than a year of public silence about the county courthouse renovation/relocation project, the Stillwater County Commissioners confirmed last week that the feasibility study into what is being called a “space options package” is due back this month.
Commissioner Chairman Gerald Dell confirmed last Wednesday that Spectrum Group Architects has notified his office that the feasibility study is nearly complete. Three public meetings have already been scheduled at which Spectrum will explain each of the four options, according to Dell and Commissioner Dennis Shupak. Those meetings are Jan. 13 in Absarokee, Jan. 14 in Columbus and Jan. 15 in Park City.
It is the first public development on the project since August 2013. Nearly $70,000 has been paid to Spectrum for work on Phase I and Phase II so far, according to the county’s finance department. The SCN learned of the development last week.
The “space options package” feasibility study, also being called Phase II, explores four possible options regarding the renovation/relocation of the current courthouse. Those options are as follows:
•Remodel of the current courthouse
•Building a new courthouse at the present location
•Building a new Law & Justice Center at the current courthouse site
•Building a new Law & Justice Center at a different location
In the original contract between Spectrum and the county, Phase II was “design development and construction,” according to multiple documents. That changed following written and verbal objections from 22nd Judicial District Judge Blair Jones and other department heads, who pointedly suggested commissioners had already decided on remodeling the old hospital and did not plan to research other options.
Commissioners strongly denied that contention, arguing they had only begun the research process. However, they did request Spectrum conduct a feasibility study looking at four other options, which was not part of the original contract.
Phase 1 of the study was completed one year and 8 months ago and included “programming and schematics” for renovating the old hospital to accommodate county courthouse offices. Spectrum’s estimated price of going that route was $2.62 million.
All documents relating to the project are being filed in the Clerk & Recorder’s Office for public access purposes. The last document filed was dated Aug. 22, 2013. That was an amendment to the professional services agreement with Spectrum regarding the additional four options that were not part of the original contract.
When asked last week if the feasibility study would be filed in the Clerk & Recorder’s Office for public access purposes, Dell said a decision on that had not yet been made.
Spectrum Group Architect’s has received negative attention in recent months regarding it’s involvement with the Lame Deer school debacle. Spectrum and DPS Co. out of Boyd were hired for a project involving the multi-phase design and construction of a new school adjacent to old school’s gym. Both were fired by the Lame Deer School Board approximately 11 months ago for what an external evaluation commissioned by the school board said was excessive design fees totaling $336,000, according to an article in the Billings Gazette.
Spectrum is reportedly negotiating a settlement with the school district, according to the Gazette.
When asked if that matter affects the courthouse project or the commission’s confidence in them, Dell said no.
“I have no concern with them,” said Dell.