The Moore County Board of Commissioners plans to finance the new courthouse project with limited obligation bonds. This is the same financing tool a previous board used to develop the nearby $32.1 million Rick Rhyne Safety Center and jail in Carthage.
During a special meeting Wednesday at the Senior Enrichment Center, Mitch Brigulio of Davenport and Co., the county’s financial advisory firm, presented a tight timeline between when construction bids will be received and a required public hearing notice required to consider awarding a contract, contingent on financing.
To build flexibility into the project, the county will consider a base bid for the primary building and bid alternatives for other related projects, such as parking lot development and renovations to the existing courthouse.
The county can issue limited obligation bonds without a voter referendum but the project’s financing agreement must be reviewed and approved by the Local Government Commission (LGC).
“Project bids will come back on April 22. That is a key date on this schedule,” Brigulio said. “That is when we can proceed with the LGC request knowing the costs will be fixed.”
He recommended that county leaders determine a “not to exceed” bid amount they would be comfortable with that could be advertised in the required public notice.
County Vice Chair Louis Gregory commented that some funding has been set aside for the courthouse project since 2016-2017.
County Manager Wayne Vest said using those funds was an option, but he also noted that interest rates are very attractive right now for financing a large project. That would also provide more cushion in the fund balance for other projects down the road.
“That is where you weigh the balance of borrowing that money at better terms now,” Vest said.
Plans call for a four-story addition to the existing courthouse facility that will create 120,000 square feet of space as well as a partial basement with a small, secured parking lot for court officials. The first floor will primarily house the Clerk of Court offices and provide a public lobby. The second floor of the new building will be reserved for Superior Court proceedings, and District Court will be on the third and fourth floors. The existing building, which opened in 1979, will also be renovated and connected to the new facility as part of the overall plan.
Dan Mace of Moseley Architects said the project in entirety is needed, but the base bid only represents the fundamental core of the courthouse addition and a connection to the existing building.
“The base bid is the essential amount for new construction. We identified several alternatives to finish the project out, should the base bid come in north of what you are comfortable with,” Mace said, noting that contractors will anticipate rising material and transportation costs in their bids. “They embed their risk in that.”
Rich Smith, the county’s capital project manager, said it’s important to remember the lengthy planning process it took to reach this point.
The courts facility opened in 1979 to replace the old county courthouse, which still sits in the middle of downtown Carthage. For the past few years, the county has been under increasing pressure from the state judicial system to replace or expand the current facility.
“This is a mandated building, you have no choice,” Smith said, “but I think it is masterful.”
He credited the board with being adamant about revalidating previous space needs studies that had been conducted over the previous decade. By deciding to renovate the existing courthouse, that reducing the size of the addition and brought down the total project cost by several million dollars.
“We are going to get the best building at the best price and it is all because of how you all think. I commend you for it,” Smith said.
County Chairman Frank Quis responded with a laugh, “You did everything but call us tight.”
Quis went on to acknowledge the county has a history of applying common sense solutions such as utilizing existing buildings to create cost advantages, wherever possible.
Commissioner Catherine Graham, who chairs the Courthouse Facilities Advisory Committee and is a former clerk of court, noted the current courthouse was built when Moore County’s population was 47,000.
“We are now over 100,000, so that is a real justification,” Graham said. “This will be a courthouse that our citizens will be proud of.”
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