Wednesday, April 24, 2024

They might be out of order

Staff Writer | December 23, 2020 1:00 AM

Designs still aren't out to print for Kootenai County's multi-department law facilities expansion, but the price tag is quickly growing from a once-expected $20 million to a recent adjustment of $27 million.

The tentatively named attorney center has been in the back of officials' minds for about nine years since the county's proposed building plan in 2011. Due to their growth out of the current facilities, Kootenai County's prosecuting attorney, public defenders, adult misdemeanor probation, district courts, and the board of county commissioners would be the inhabitants of the facilities.

Lombard Conrad Architects and Longwell Trapp Architects' planning is still in the early phases, but recent demand increases have caused commissioner concern.

Shawn Riley, the Kootenai County project manager and consultant, said the department wish list has gotten longer since the original 2019 ArchitectWest planning study.

"In 2019, we said to ask for the moon about what you'll need for the next 20 years in the best-case scenario, and that came out to almost 100,000 square feet. That was never promised, just a best-case scenario," Riley said. "When we selected LCA, they did a preliminary space plan on Dec. 3 with some of those departments on what they expected to go into the building, and that percentage (of wants) went up significantly."

Then came the Dec. 17 spreadsheet sent out by LCA to departments, Riley said, where the list increased again.

With the addition of 15 more public defenders from previous estimates, two 60-person conference rooms for public defenders and prosecuting attorneys, Riley said the county is looking at 30,352 square feet — the equivalent of two and a half floors.

"The good news is, the contract was off to legal for LCA last week," Riley said during the commissioners' Monday meeting. "The bad news is it went up from a $24 million building to a $27 million building."

One request that will most likely get shrunk, Riley said, is a courtroom that could seat 100 people — larger than any facility in Ada or Canyon counties.

"It felt to me like everyone is piling on right now," he said. "Some people want their own conference room, break room, bathrooms, their own entrance. There is a lot that's going to have to get cut down."

Originally planned to fill between the county administration building and the courthouses, the construction could spill into two locations. With Commissioner Chris Fillios' recommendation, Riley and LCA will look at the dubbed "annex" building on Northwest Boulevard and Appleway Avenue owned by the county.

Still, the architects and departments will be hard-pressed to meet the $20 million ceiling Commissioners Bill Brooks and Leslie Duncan intend to keep.

"I'm kind of flabbergasted that we're talking $27 million now. I'm not going to approve anything over $20 million no matter what," Brooks said. "It ain't going to happen."

Duncan briefly mentioned capping the construction at $15 million, which would limit the structure to 50,000 square feet — similar to the Garden Avenue administration size — versus the 90,000 square feet designs.

About a week ago, Brooks said the board was expecting about $17.5 million, which is already pushing his expectations.

"If it's a cent over $17.5 million, I'll vote against it and send it to a general obligation bond," Brooks said. "Right now, the various departments are driving the equation in a bad way. That's not how you plan a building, and we aren't going to start planning it like that now."

The county and architects are expected to whittle down department layouts in the spring. Once they are finalized and sent to bid, a single building timeline is looking like two to three years, Riley said, and two buildings would verge on four to five.