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County approves $3.7 million design

By Lori Lindner
Solon Economist
JOHNSON COUNTY– Last Thursday, Dec. 5, the Johnson County Board of Supervisors took a significant step toward replacing a county facility that was damaged by fire last spring.
It came at higher price than the board would have hoped, but members justified it for its longevity, functionality and accordance with the county’s efforts toward sustainability and reduced energy consumption.
The Johnson County Secondary Roads building at 4810 Melrose Ave. W. and several pieces of equipment within were damaged by fire on March 25, the cause of which is still undetermined. In July, the county entered into a contract with Ament Design for $203,000 to draft a design and site plan for the replacement building.
After a few meetings and design revisions, the board unanimously approved Ament’s final design for a 34,285 square foot building that contains five mechanics bays, seven bays for vehicle storage and one work bay that flank a central office, workout room and storage space. The facility will house the county’s road maintenance equipment and serve as storage for many of the county’s archived paper records.
The cost of the building as designed is approximately $3.35 million; with an added 10 percent for contingencies, the total estimated cost was $3.7 million.
The plans will go out for construction bids with a Jan. 14, 2014 due date.
The designs are for a pre-engineered metal building that includes several energy-conscious features such as overhead windows that allow daylight harvesting, occupancy-activated lighting, in-floor heat powered by high-efficiency boilers, and high-quality insulation, all of which will reduce heating and cooling bills in the future.
Al Varney of Ament Design said the initial expenditures for the energy-saving elements in the design will pay for themselves in short order. Using a baseline design, the annual energy use was estimated at $26,000 per year, saving approximately $11,000 per year in gas and electric costs. Incorporating the energy-efficient features mentioned above will pay off an initial investment of $98,000 in 8.8 years, Varney told the board.
“With the incentives that MidAmerican Energy offers, that goes down to 6.3 years as a payoff,” according to the White Group, which did an energy use evaluation, Varney said.
The plan calls for leaving an existing mechanics shed in place to serve as equipment storage during construction, and a portion of it will be dismantled and re-used.
Supervisor Janelle Rettig said the energy savings helps to ease the spending.
“If we can get payback in under 10 years, it doesn’t require as much consternation,” said Rettig.
Supervisor Rod Sullivan concurred.
“It’s hard to find a silver lining in a building burning down, but if there is one, it’s that we will come back with (a building) that is a lot more efficient,” he said.
Oxford resident Bill Stockton questioned the need for the total of 12 bays, asking why road maintenance equipment couldn’t be stored in some of the county’s outlying facilities near Swisher, Solon or Oxford.
Johnson County Engineer Greg Parker explained that the proposed new building actually contains the same number of bays currently used in storing county equipment, including two bays in the Johnson County SEATS facility to store road equipment, which leaves some SEATS vehicles to sit outside. Also, the storage sheds near Solon and Swisher will eventually be sold, as they were replaced by a new facility built near Shueyville.
Stockton also asked why the county couldn’t defray the cost of demolition and site preparation by using the county’s own staff and equipment, rather than paying a contractor.
“Our department has the equipment and staff to do the demolition and site work activities,” Parker said. “However, when we pull staff away to do that, we pull them off their road responsibilities and things we do to provide services to residents. We thought it was more cost effective to have the contractor do the civil site activities. Some of this demo will be taking place during winter; if we don’t have mild winter, our crews will be out on the roads applying sand and salt to roads and plowing. Time is of the essence. When we let for construction, we don’t want us to be holding up the contractor for completing the building, because there could be increased costs.”
Rettig said she still had sticker shock about the overall price tag, but acknowledged the new building will fix a lot of shortcomings in function the previous facility presented.
“The old building was never built for the kind of equipment we have today,” Rettig said. “I get that we are planning for 50 years, but this was an unplanned project for us.”
Supervisor Terrence Neuzil agreed.
“Johnson County is in an emergency right now. We had a fire that took away an essential structure and we are in a hurry to get this project done. I think the public doesn’t realize the amount of damage that took place. We are talking in excess of millions of dollars of damage that fire caused. Our vehicles were destroyed, and this is a service the residents of our community probably put in the top three or four of what the purpose of county government is; to make sure people are able to get around,” Neuzil said.
About $1 million of the cost of the new structure and a portion of costs for moving the existing building will be reimbursed by insurance.
“Sometimes disasters bring you opportunities, and it has been a long-term goal to go to centralized fleet management,” said Rettig. “We believe that has tremendous cost savings, but we had no place to do it. This serves as an opportunity to fix a lot of inherent problems (of the old space) for decades into future. We should need no more expansion of secondary roads space for a long time.”