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Notice of Intent issued to award contract for courthouse project

The Southampton County Board of Supervisors voted Sept. 7 to issue a Notice of Intent to award the contract for the Southampton County Courthouse renovation project to Heartland Construction and to authorize county staff to put the contract documents together for the first phase of the project, which is the repurposing of Hunterdale Elementary School. 

Michael Johnson

“If that happens before (Sept. 28), I’d like your motion to authorize us to go ahead and sign that piece of it,” County Administrator Michael Johnson told the board. “And then we’ll come back to you, hopefully by the 28th, with the revised bid number for the work of the renovation project.”

This motion passed at a joint meeting of the Board of Supervisors and the Franklin City Council at Camp Community College. 

At the meeting, the governing bodies, both of which are invested in this project, took in presentations from Glave & Holmes Architecture and Davenport & Co.

The budget set for the courthouse renovation project was $16.8 million, and the lowest bid for the project ended up being $22.1 million by Heartland Construction, exceeding the budget by 31.5%.

Revealed at the Sept. 7 meeting was the result of value engineering efforts that have been taking place to try to lower the low bid amount. According to the Glave & Holmes presentation, an estimated savings of $730,000 to $775,000 had been found as of Sept. 7.

Shortly before the vote, Johnson offered his summary of the situation and his recommended action.

“So, with this project, time is money,” he said. “We’ve already moved our lower court into temporary facilities over at the City of Franklin courts building.”

He said preparations are underway to move the balance of the courthouse users over to Hunterdale Elementary once work on the swing space there is done.

“We’re paying rent every month, so any delays at this point will adversely affect the project,” he said to the board. “What we’d like to do to minimize the delays is to have you go ahead and issue a Notice of Intent to award the contract to Heartland Construction, the low bidder. 

“That accomplishes several things,” he continued. “No. 1, it starts the clock ticking on the 10-day protest period that we have to allow if any other bidders wanted to protest the award.”

He said the county does not anticipate any protests, but the 10 days need to be factored into the schedule.

Issuing a Notice of Intent to award the contract to Heartland also signals good faith to Heartland, Johnson said, noting the contractor has submitted the low bid, and since bid day, it has invested substantial time, energy and other resources in helping to identify the cost savings that were shared with the board and council Sept. 7.

“So in doing that, it would signal good faith to them that we intend to work this out and issue the contract,” he said. “It also would open the door for us to go ahead and award the contract for the first phase, which is that swing space at Hunterdale, so that they can get moving on that. That’s going to take somewhere between 60 and 90 days to get that done.

“So if we can get them going ahead, moving, getting that space ready, that would facilitate a move into that facility sometime right around the first of the calendar year next year and keep us pretty close to schedule,” he continued. “So that’s where we are. That’s why it’s important. As much as I’d like to say, ‘Let’s just put all this on hold and think about it for another three weeks,’ time is money.”

Johnson said the recommendation would also buy another two to three weeks during which the appropriate parties can continue to work with Heartland’s team to try to find more savings.

“We’ve shaved off, in round numbers, about $750,000 off of that low bid,” Johnson said to the board. “We’ll continue to work to try to shave a little bit more off, and hopefully by the time we get to your regular meeting on September the 28th, we’ll have a final number for you to consider, and you can pull the trigger at that point on the project.”

Alan W. Edwards

Opening the discussion, Jerusalem District Supervisor and Board Chair Dr. Alan W. Edwards was in agreement with Johnson’s recommendation.

“I personally think it would be a mistake not to go ahead with it full speed,” Edwards said.

“Yeah, I’m with you,” Franklin District Supervisor Robert White said. “We need to move forward, get this thing done. If we keep waiting, we’re going to keep losing money.”

“I concur,” Boykins District Supervisor Carl J. Faison said.

Linwood Johnson

“Like you said, time is money,” Edwards said to Johnson. “The longer we sit here, the more expensive it’s going to be. We’ve messed around, then gone in circles the last five, six, seven years. It’s time to move on. We know what we have to do.”

Franklin Mayor Frank M. Rabil voiced his support for the decision, as did a couple of council members.

Ward 4 Councilman Dr. Linwood Johnson said, “Basically, I think it’s the best deal on the table that we have right now, and if we don’t move, something could be very detrimental and cost everybody money.”