The Ellis County Commission on Monday voted to move forward with two significant building renovation projects.

Commissioners unanimously voted to hire Ben Moore Studio architecture firm based in Manhattan to design renovation proposals for the county’s 601 Main building and the future health clinic at 2507 Canterbury.

The Main Street building currently houses county Extension services and the health department, which will be moving to the new facility. Renovations to that building were included in a 2013 bond issue, and the county has approximately $266,000 in sales tax revenue remaining for the 601 Main project. An additional $30,000 has been earmarked in the county’s capital improvement budget, County Administrator Phillip Smith-Hanes said.

The main consideration in those renovations will be an ongoing stormwater flooding issue in the building’s parking lot.

“I believe, and I think the folks who work in that location believe, firmly that the water remediation is probably the single most important thing we can do for that site,” Smith-Hanes said.

The new health clinic was not included in the bond issue. Those funds were set aside in the county budget when the building was purchased in June. The county’s budget for renovations at this building is up to approximately $200,000.

Ben Moore Studio had proposed a fee of 7 percent to 8 percent of construction costs, which are estimated at a total of approximately $450,000 to $500,000 for both projects. Commissioner Dean Haselhorst said he was skeptical of hiring a firm that did not yet have a set price.

Haselhorst also served as the county’s project manager while other buildings in the bond issue — the jail, courthouse and emergency services building — were renovated. Those projects, particularly the jail, experienced cost overruns, time delays and unexpected issues.

“I don’t like that wide open number. Sorry. I don’t,” Haselhorst said. “I’ve just seen it in the past how that’s a floating number, and I know which way that floating number goes.”

Commission Chairperson Barbara Wasinger said she personally had sought references for Ben Moore Studio in addition to those obtained by a county staff committee put together to review the seven architecture proposals the county received and make a recommendation.

“She had nothing but glowing comments that everything came in just as expected and problems were never unsolvable,” Wasinger said of the individual she spoke with.

Smith-Hanes said the review committee was careful to select a firm that has solid experience in renovating older buildings rather than just new construction.

Ben Moore Studio also had submitted the lowest cost proposal for design services. And when it comes to cost, the county will have the ability to tailor any proposal to stay on budget, he said.

Now that a design firm has been selected, cost estimates will become more firm. Ben Moore also was present at Monday’s meeting and indicated his firm also is willing to consider a lump-sum fee instead if the county prefers.

“I think that we are going to be able to design something that fits our budget,” Smith-Hanes said. “I’ve tried to be as clear as I can with the folks at 601 (Main). We may not be able to achieve everything they would like to achieve within that budget, but picking the lowest-cost architect is a good step in the right direction.”

In other business:

• An agreement for a nurse practitioner to provide services at the health clinic was tabled until a later date.

• Commissioners gave consensus for the Hays Public Library trust to move forward with a plan to beautify property near the corner of 13th and Main.