County highway garage opening awaits final occupancy permit, punch list items

Mike Wolanin | The Republic A exterior view of the new Bartholomew County Highway Garage in Columbus, Ind., Monday, Nov. 15, 2021.

Mike Wolanin | The Republic

ABartholomew County Highway administrator says he’s hopeful his department will be able to move to the new highway garage east of Petersville by the end of the year.

But highway engineer Danny Hollander has seen too many delays caused by supply chain disruptions, labor shortages and inflation that he’s hesitant about making firm promises.

In April, contractors estimated the new $7.6 million to $8 million garage was about 80% to 85% completed. At that time, Bartholomew County commissioner Carl Lienhoop estimated the 22,000-square-foot main building, as well as various outbuildings, would be ready for occupancy in July.

But required construction materials “probably took twice as long getting here as they typically do,” Hollander said.

Supply chain problems, labor shortages and inflationary pressures have continued for a longer period of time than county officials expected.

“It’s really a timely topic right now,” said Taylor Bros. Construction president David Doup, whose company supervised nine prime contractors and six subcontractors working on the new garage, located east of the Clay Township Fire Department. “Problems are happening everywhere – not just in my business.”

Companies around the world are battling supply chain bottlenecks as a post-pandemic spike in demand converges with industrial production struggling to catch up after lengthy COVID-induced shutdowns, economist say.

At the highway garage, earlier problems encountered included electrical issues and faulty flooring, county administrator Tina Douglas said.

More recently, a lengthy delay in obtaining fiber optic cables for phones and computers brought construction to a halt for about two months, Douglas said.

There have even been low-tech delays. For example, a company shipped lockers to the work site that, upon their arrival, were discovered to be too small for the staff to use, Hollander said.

“We had to get different ones, but that took longer than it should have,” the highway engineer said.

Doup said he thought the problem of material shortages was beginning to improve, but he admits some supplies – especially those involving technological sophistication – are sporadic in their availability.

“We ran into a project where there were some electrical pieces that we had might have seen on the shelf three or four months ago,” Doup said. “But they aren’t there now.

While the entire facility has appeared ready for occupancy for several months from the outside, it’s up to the Bartholomew County Code Enforcement Office to issue a certificate of occupancy before the move can be made, Douglas said.

Code enforcement officers and a county fire inspector have performed final inspections at the facility, Chief Code Enforcement Officer Brian Thompson wrote.

”Although a final certificate of occupancy has not been issued, the structures are deemed to be safe for occupancy,” Thompson said. “ There are a few minor, miscellaneous items that are being corrected and completed, which is typical of any project. After a follow-up inspection is requested and approved, a final certificate of occupancy can then be issued.”

However, the transition of the department from the nearly 70-year-old current garage at State Street and Gladstone Avenue seven miles to Petersville won’t take place overnight, Hollander said. Highway crews already have their hands full with several projects that need to be finished before the end of the year.

Much of the move may have to be carried out by a few people, or occasionally by a larger group of employees when rain makes road work impossible, he said.

Since the current garage is too small and inadequate for modern machinery, the department’s mechanics will likely be sent first to the new facility, Hollander said. But an extensive amount of time will have to be spent in the State and Gladstone building evaluating an extensive amount of files “to ensure we don’t bring a whole bunch of junk we don’t need,” Hollander said.

If there is an upside to the supply chain troubles, labor and inflationary problems, it is that such challenges spark ingenuity in figuring out ways to make things work, Doup said.

”Folks are also starting to better work together now, ” Doup said. “While there may be some labor shortages, more people are willing to pitch in and help wherever they can. We’re all in the same really, big big boat, but as long as everybody keeps hold on to their oars, we’ll should all reach the shore.“