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Costs nearly double on Historic Courthouse rehab

GATESVILLE – What started as a $450,000 project six years ago, the budget for the rehabilitation effort at the historic Gates County Courthouse now stands at nearly double that amount.

At their regularly scheduled meeting here March 6, the Gates County Board of Commissioners, after a lengthy discussion, agreed to approve three budget amendments totaling $201,193 for the project. Those amendments were needed to cover cost overruns associated with the rehabilitation work at the circa 1836 structure that is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The newly added funding will come from two sources: $180,000 from the county’s undesignated fund balance, and $21,193 from money already allocated in the FY 2018-19 budget (a reallocation from departmental funds that were not at 50 percent expended for the year as of March 2019).

County Manager Natalie Rountree accepted some of the blame for the newly needed funds.

“I did not encumber the correct amount on a previous (work) contract,” Rountree stated. “As we were going through the bills recently that was noted (that the money was not encumbered) and the work is already completed.

“We also had additional work with some digging out of debris (under the floor). There was also a new HVAC system that we did not originally account for and then they (contractor) has proposed additional electrical work in order to bring some wiring up to code,” she added.

Rountree said that some of the new electrical work included the installation of outlets needed for the office space that is part of the project.

“I’m all about being a good steward of our taxpayer money, when these folks are doing this works says it takes ‘x’ amount of dollars to do this work, are we accepting that ‘x’ amount of dollars; are we trying to negotiate with them,” asked Commissioner Jonathan Jones.

“No, we have not negotiated with them; they have been very conscientious; actually some of their items have been below budgeted estimates,” said Rountree. “Some of this added work was unforeseen. An example is when they took the floors up they found debris from what is thought to be from some work done back in the 1920’s. There was no way they could install any electrical ductwork with all that debris in the way.”

Upon being asked by Jones of the total costs of the restoration project to this point, Rountree said it was $890,000.

“I’ll be the first to admit from looking at the history (of the overall project) that took place before me (prior to her being hired as the county manager), that money has not been spent correctly and things have not been done in the correct order,” Rountree stressed. “That has led to the increased costs.”

The project has benefitted from a $70,000 donation (one for $20,000 and a second for $50,000 to be used specifically for the restoring windows) from the Gates County Historical Society. That group has also agreed to reimburse the county for some other specific work.

The project initially began in 2013 with a budget of $250,000. In August of the same year, another $200,000 was moved from the General Fund to the project. The completion date for the interior work is June of this year.

Commissioner Henry Jordan noted that any amount spent in excess of $450,000 should be considered as “cost overruns.”

“This amount does not include doing some touch-up work, nor does it include placing room dividers in the offices or purchasing new furniture, if needed, for those offices,” Rountree remarked.

Board Vice Chairman Jack Owens shed some light on the project.

“The old courthouse is part of this county’s history,” he said. “You either keep buildings functional, you tear them down, or you let them fall down. The Commissioners were faced with those choices a while back. We’re not just restoring that building to say it’s restored, we’re doing this so that building can be used on a day-to-day basis.”

Owens added that the Commissioners will use the old courthouse, upon completion of the restoration project, to conduct their meetings.

“Some of the county offices will move there too,” Owens noted. “That keeps us from having to invest in building a new office to house our employees.”

As far as the cost overruns, Owens stressed that restoration projects, particularly on older structures, are filled with unknowns.

“You’ll always find something else that needs to be done,” Owens stated. “You can’t walk away from it, you have to address it and move on. You can’t replace the floors with decaying timber underneath. Well, you can, but over time the new floor will fall in.”

Owens said he has met with Gatesville Mayor Elton Winslow in an effort to see if joint usage is possible within the old courthouse.

“We’re talking about some financial input from the town,” Owens remarked.

Additionally, Rountree said there’s a possibility that NCDOT may chip in some funds to assist with the exterior grading and sidewalks portion of the project.

In the end, the Commissioners agreed, without objection, to approve the three budget amendments.

 

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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