$12 million estimate for courthouse, highway garage work

It could cost more than $12 million to renovate or replace deteriorating Bartholomew County facilities over the next decade, based on a consultant’s findings.

Cost estimates regarding repairs to the Bartholomew County Courthouse and Veterans Memorial, also on the courthouse property, as well as building a new county highway garage, were presented Monday to the three Bartholomew County commissioners, who commissioned the study.

Five of the seven county council members also listened to the detailed presentation by two representatives of DLZ Indiana Inc., an Indianapolis-based engineering and architectural firm.

Problems that need addressing over the next two years at the 146-year-old courthouse include up to $800,000 of exterior masonry restoration, said Elliott Allen, DMZ structural engineer.

Replacement of the heating and air conditioning equipment, located in an open underground space covered with a metal grate on the courthouse’s southwest side, also should be done within a few years, Allen said.

However, replacement of a main electrical switchboard in a tunnel area can be held off for up to five years, he said.

Longer-term projects include new windows, as well as installation of light fixtures and controls, according to the report.

An assessment by DLZ principal architech Eric Ratts described the 65-year-old county garage, located at 2452 State St., as functionally obsolete for today’s needs and equipment. No alternative for remodeling the existing facility was presented.

Specific problems at the county garage outlined by Ratts include:

A cracked concrete floor that shifts under the loads of heavy trucks.

The need for a new roof.

The inability of trucks to pull into 40-foot-long service bays.

An electrical system that is already performing at capacity.

Inadequate storage.

Expensive equipment exposed to freezing temperatures, due to no exhaust system in the garage.

Inadequate room and height for necessary repairs.

While most courthouse repairs can likely wait at least a few more years, a greater urgency exists to replace the county highway garage, commissioner Rick Flohr said.

Council president Laura DeDomenic had said earlier that she felt the council would agree to make needed repairs on the courthouse, a historic landmark. However, DeDomenic said that she did not sense a sentiment among council members to pay millions of dollars for a new highway garage.

Flohr and commissioner Larry Kleinhenz said they anticipate efforts will be made to cut replacement or renovation costs suggested by DMZ by as much as half.

The cost estimates will likely be used in deliberations over the next few months by the commissioners and the council when looking at enacting a cumulative capital improvement fund.

Although commissioners can create the fund without a funding mechanism, the council must set all tax rates, county attorney Grant Tucker said.

If the council adopts the state’s recommendations, taxes on all residential and business real estate would increase by .0166 cents per $100 of assessed valuation the first year, raising between $600,000 and $700,000, according to county auditor Barb Hackman’s estimates.

For a property owner with a home assessed at $100,000 who takes normal deductions, the first-year impact would be $5.44, Hackman said. For owners of a residence assessed at $200,000, the tax liability would be $16.26 annually, she said.

While strong public objections have been voiced against any type of tax increase over the past several years, a new tax would be just a piece of the funding puzzle, Flohr said.

What's next

Needs and cost estimates announced Monday on three county-owned facilities will likely be used over the next several months as the Bartholomew County commissioners and the Bartholomew County Council discuss the possibility of enacting a cumulative capital improvement fund.

While council members say they would prefer waiting until their 2018 budget negotiations begin in late summer to make a decision on the proposed tax, commissioner Carl Lienhoop said a decision will have to be made no later than Aug. 1, or wait an additional year to start taking in new revenue.

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.