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Attorney center: still up in the air

by MADISON HARDY
Staff Writer | January 22, 2021 1:06 AM

After settling on an $18 million ceiling last week for the future attorney center, the Kootenai County commissioners worried they were committing to an empty shelled building.

Through Lombard Conrad Architects' tentative budgets, the full-build out option with all the bells and whistles shocked the commissioners with a $31 million price tag. Instead, most of the board — Commissioner Bill Brooks dissenting — agreed on an estimated $18 million cap.

"There is still a lot to think about," Commissioner Leslie Duncan said. "I think at this point because it is a huge price tag, probably the biggest that the county's ever done. I just want to make sure we do it right."

During Tuesday's meeting, the commissioners considered two new options that would still not complete the project but would include the county's top priorities. Both options would get the county closer to achieving the building around $18 million, Shawn Riley, the Kootenai County project manager and consultant explained. Still, it would likely go over budget to purchase the necessary fixtures, furniture, and equipment.

"When you're sitting right on the cusp of what you have to spend, it makes it hard to keep that project under budget because you're at the threshold right off the bat," Riley said.

Without firmly committing to a budget, the county has been unable to move forward on the project, finding a Construction Manager/General Contractor, and signing LCA to the job. While the dollar figure has been a primary inhibitor to defining the project, the commissioners have also struggled to decide what departments must enter the new building and what others could be rearranged.

"That is going to set the scope for us going forward, knowing which departments we need to sit down with and start filling out those spaces, putting them on paper," Ken Gallegos with LCA said. "The crux of this whole building and the cost is what are you going to put in it."

Commissioner Chris Fillios has raised the query of relocating departments throughout the design process, including the elections office, assessor's office, and the community development office. Unfortunately, hopes of using the Kootenai Electric Cooperative facility are about three years out, as the company looks for and builds its new home.

"If we can free up space here or in any of the other buildings that we can locate or relocate to, and at the same time be able to potentially sell other structures, that helps us in financing the new building," Fillios said. "We have to look at this holistically."

The board and planners agreed there were a few key features that needed to be in the new building, the public defender's office, and new county courtrooms. Still, the commissioners' last roadblock — potential changes in tax revenue make them feel uncertain. Due to this unprofitability, the commissioners have resisted budging a dollar over $18 million until April — after the legislative session ends and they have a clear vision of future taxing authority.

"The Legislature can do some pretty devastating things to our funding sources, to pay back a loan or replenish our savings," Duncan said. "We have to be very cognizant of that."

Over the next two weeks, LCA and Riley plan on meeting with the departments to define their spatial layout, create conceptual plans, and narrow down the must-haves.

photo

Shawn Riley, the Kootenai County project manager and consultant, stresses commissioner to set a budget for the future attorney center - without it, the project can not move forward. (MADISON HARDY/Press)