Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Commissioners move ahead on annex, road projects

Editor | May 18, 2023 12:00 AM

The Lake County Commissioners moved forward on two major projects Monday morning by hiring a design and build team for the new courthouse annex and awarding an engineering contract for a $13-million road improvement project.

In the first order of business, the commissioners approved a motion to hire Swank Enterprises, A&E Design and Morrison-Maierle to design and build a $7 million annex. The structure will replace the building currently housing the Drug Court and IT department, located on the corner of First St. E. and Fifth Ave. E.

The new 18,000 square-foot building will be three stories high, with 6,000 square feet per floor, and will extend from Fifth Ave. to the alley south of the existing building. The adjacent county garage will not be altered.

At this point, commissioners say they aren’t certain which departments will move to the new building, however, the elections office is at the top of the list. The current office is in the basement of the courthouse, creating accessibility challenges for the public. A second courtroom is also a likeliehood.

The project was initially approved on March 23, when commissioners passed a resolution allowing the county to adopt an alternative “design/build” approach to the project. Under these guidelines a builder/architectural team will deliver a “turn-key” finished building for a negotiated price – in this case $7 million.

The county received two responses and formally selected Swank’s proposal on Monday.

Commissioner Bill Barron is optimistic the design/build approach could streamline the process. “Once we sign the contract with them it’ll be their baby to deliver the project to us,” he said Monday. “It should cut down the time from start to finish.”

With a fixed budget, “it’s the way to go because it’s on them to really find the best cost for things,” added special projects and grant manager Billie Lee.

The funds for the project will come largely from capital reserves, with additional funding from grants and, if necessary, a small loan.

Commissioners anticipate that work will begin soon on the project and expect it to take around 18 months, with completion slated for the end of 2024. Meanwhile a team of department heads will work with the commissioners and architects to identify which offices will be relocated, and to craft space and design requirements.

Once the annex is complete, some areas of the courthouse will be remodeled to better accommodate remaining offices, with a possible expansion of the basement detention center included in that phase.

According to Commissioner Gale Decker, the outcome of Public Law 280 – a law enforcement agreement between the state, the county and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes that’s currently in limbo – is “the cloud hanging over it all.”

The commissioners will meet May 26 to decide whether to formally pull out of the 60-year-old agreement. Meanwhile, legislation sits on the governor’s desk that would provide $5 million in additional funding for Lake County law enforcement over the next two years while the three parties attempt to hammer out a path forward.

“If we pull out, we might not need another courtroom and we might have sufficient jail space,” said Decker. “We’re going to go ahead and build over there, but what we do with the space is still to be determined.”

RAISE grant funds three road projects

Also on Monday morning, commissioners hired the WGM Group to provide engineering services for three road projects in Lake County. The projects will be funded by a $12.9 million Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grant – one of four awarded statewide last summer.

The grant will finance rebuilding and paving projects on Dublin Gulch Rd., a short section of Moiese Valley Rd. and North Reservoir Rd., which will also get a bike/pedestrian lane. All three roads provide crucial links to state highways, offer alternative routes during traffic disruption along the Hwy. 93 corridor, and are essential for ferrying commercial and agricultural products and services.

Funding will be released in increments, with the first amount, $1,337,214, allocated for preliminary design, which includes everything up to, and including, preparing documents for the actual construction bid.

Cody Thorson, a construction project manager for WGM, said crews would be on the ground Tuesday, and estimated that the design portion will be finished by next summer, and construction could begin soon thereafter.

Dublin Gulch, a 5.5-mile road that connects Hwy. 93 and Hwy. 212, is often plagued by spring flooding. In addition to widening and paving the thoroughfare with asphalt, the project will replace 20 undersized, inadequate culverts and span Post Creek with a bridge.

North Reservoir Road, a 3.66-mile corridor that connects Hwy. 93 to Back Road (State Highway 354), has one of the top five highest traffic counts in Lake County. That roadway will be expanded, paved with asphalt, and include a bike/pedestrian path.

The entrance to Moiese Valley Road, just north of the Bison Range, is also slated for improvements. The first mile travels beneath an unused railroad trestle and across wetlands managed by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes before heading uphill into the valley, which is home to myriad farms, ranches and ag-related businesses. The valley has just two access points, 13 miles apart, so when that portion of the roadway floods, locals are forced to travel 10 to 13 miles north, then an additional 12 miles to access U.S. 93, or further to return to Hwy. 212.

The $12.9 million grant is more than five times the county’s annual road budget of $2.5 million, which pays for materials, equipment and labor for patching, snow removal, weed and dust control, and grading on more than 1,400 miles of roads, a third of which are gravel.

“We’re excited to get this done – this is going to be huge for the county,” said Barron. “All that money we’re putting into repair on those roads can be shifted and used somewhere else.”

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