Dean Haselhorst is pressing hard to get construction on the Ellis County Courthouse and the adjoining Law Enforcement Center wrapped up.
He has good reason to want that. As chairman of the Ellis County Commission, as the unpaid construction manager and as a taxpayer, he recognizes every month the Ellis County Jail isn’t housing prisoners means another $70,000 cost to the county.
That’s why he’s standing firm on the Feb. 1 grand opening of the courthouse and the bit more tentative Feb. 15 opening of the LEC, which houses the jail, Ellis County Sheriff’s Office and Hays Police Department.
The courthouse will open for regular business Feb. 2.
Holding the line on those deadlines sometimes means cutting it as close as possible, as is the case this week with construction crews continuing to put finishing touches on the courthouse even as employees start moving back in.
It also means spending more time on the job site, along with regular architectural and construction conferences.
Even when he’s not there, he said while offering a tour of the not-yet-complete courthouse to The Hays Daily News, he’ll receive as many as 10 phone calls a day, fielding questions about the project.
He even noted Mike Wilson, the on-site construction manager for MW Builders, has him on speed dial.
Haselhorst is confident his decision to volunteer for and accept the unpaid position of construction manager has been a benefit to the county because tasks that had been languishing for days soon were getting done as a result of decisions being made in a timely fashion.
It also saved $70,000 or more, the cost to hire a construction manager, which the commissioners were considering at the time.
He admits he’s quick to make a decision, or press the issue, if necessary, to get a decision made. As the manager, he’s able to OK expenditures of up to $20,000; anything beyond that has to go before the full three-member commission.
But there have been stumbles, and the project likely will cost nearly $1 million more than expected.
Repairing the jail floor, he said, even though its cost is in excess of what he’s been authorized to OK, will move forward because when commissioners last met, they were in agreement with the project at the low bid. Still, he said, Ellis County Clerk Donna Maskus will be sending an email to commissioners to alert them of the move, giving them time to object.
She’s also expected to pass along a suggestion by Haselhorst to move the Feb. 1 county commission meeting back to the courthouse — when the open house is underway — so people can drop by and watch the meeting as they tour the courthouse.
The jail floor change is not the first time commissioners have seen change orders.
There have been 65 suggested change orders — requests for additional work that wasn’t included in the original plan — a number Haselhorst considers much higher than normal. Many of the changes reflect items that were pulled from the plan to help lower the contract price.
“I checked the other day and just cringed,” he said of how many changes have been made.
He’s signed off on 44 of them since the project started.
“Some of them I’ve axed,” he said. “We didn’t go with all of them.”
He said many came down to what was wanted versus what was needed.
There are a few that were accepted before he started as the construction manager, and he’s still hoping to recoup some of the cost for some of those he said were unnecessary.
Those change orders have added to the cost, Haselhorst said, but they were necessary and never should have been cut from the initial proposal.
“I can tell you in a week,” he said of what the final cost will be. “If I was to guess today, I would guess $1 million.”
The greatest share of that was for the heating and air-conditioning system, which added $330,000 to the total cost.
But as the insulation on lines covering the old system were peeled back, it was apparent it had long outlived its usefulness, he said, and parts could no longer be purchased.
So they went with a low-energy, high-efficiency system that is designed to save on energy costs.
Haselhorst also is quick to point out the courthouse is now equipped with energy efficient lights that turn on automatically when someone enters a room, or shut off when there’s been no movement for several minutes.
In line with the city’s push for water conservation, the courthouse also will have water-efficient toilets and faucets.
But it’s not all new, Haselhorst said, as old conduit was used in some instances rather than installing new lines. Doors also were left in place, especially when there was no reason to switch it out for a new one.
Heating radiators in hallways and in the third floor courtroom are being replace with wood inserts, which are markedly cheaper than installing marble taken from other locations in the courthouse.
In the all-but-new second floor courtroom, Haselhorst pointed out, the attorney’s tables were used, but refinished.
“It turned out nice,” he said.
Haselhorst also had high praise for the contractors, noting Wilson and his crew built from scratch the jury box in the courtroom.
While there have been added costs, Haselhorst said by keeping a close watch on details and by requiring itemized details on the change orders, he’s also been able to save money.
“We’re potentially going to be getting maybe $100,000 in credits from the architect and MW,” he said.
Credits from MW have come from the construction company being willing to waive a 10-percent surcharge that’s normal in government projects.
Dropping that helped reduce the cost of adding the metal shielding to the ceiling of the jail, for example, from $106,000 to $69,00. The metal also was obtained locally, reducing costs even more.
Haselhorst admits he might take some criticism for the extra costs.
“It’s not a matter of defending myself,” he said. “It’s something that’s in the interest of the county.”
Some of the added expenses, he said, such as carpeting and flooring for new offices and courtrooms, never should have been pulled from the project to reduce costs.