Butler County protecting $477 million in assets with stepped up capital improvements

Credit: Journal News

Caption

Credit: Journal News

Historic Courthouse in Hamilton restoration is one of many projects on county commission’s list.

The Butler County commissioners doubled their commitment to capital improvements this year to $4 million and have spent almost half on a variety of projects, still to come are the restoration of the Historic Courthouse and automating the parking garage.

The value of all of the county’s buildings total more than $477 million and the commissioners in past years, because of tight budgets have had to defer many projects to protect those assets.

County Administrator Judi Boyko said they have spent about $1.8 million on the 5-year computer replacement program and some cyber protection; building and system upgrades, $1 million went for sheriff’s vehicles and equipment replacement, a new records management system in the jail among other smaller projects countywide. Most of the remaining budget is going to the long-awaited Historic Courthouse restoration.

“It’s good to catch up on things which are important to the normal operation of the county,” Commissioner T.C. Rogers said.

The county spent $75,000 of the capital improvement budget for an architect to draw up plans to restore the 132-year-old courthouse in downtown Hamilton. The total cost of the project to make critical repairs to the courthouse is $4.6 million and it will be phased over three years, with nearly $1.6 million earmarked for this year.

Chris Hacker, the county’s director of assets, procurement and projects, said they plan to award the project still this year but likely the only work that will begin will be some plumbing work in the basement. Next year the main focus will be roof work, “obviously just the exposure to the weather all those years has caused the need to button things up a little bit.”

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About six years ago Commissioner Cindy Carpenter dubbed the five-story structure at the corner of Court Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard their “Stone Age” garage, but it has still taken several years to get the wheels turning on automating it.

The 600-space garage currently operates as a cash-only, pay-at-the-gate operation. Proposals to automate the garage, making it more user-friendly and generating revenue from community events back then ranged from $100,000 to $400,000.

Hacker said the current estimate is $120,000 and he is preparing to get that project off the ground, but it isn’t as easy as it may sound. He said it involves installing pay stations where people can use either cash or credit cards. They have to work with what is in place already, namely the gate system at the entrance and exit.

“It’s more than just hey put a ticket dispenser in,” he said. “I hope that is another project we can do this winter. I certainly have not scratched it and pulled it entirely. It’s just a matter of, I want to get those details ironed out now, rather than get everything plugged in and try and sort through okay, how is it going to work.”

The larger capital-based project the county has tried to accomplish for years has briefly stalled. The commissioners put out a request for proposals on a space utilization study this summer but only received one bid. This week they officially rejected the bid and are going to try again.

The county embarked on this project several years ago, but it stalled when former asset director Randy Quisenberry left. Commissioner Don Dixon has estimated 10% to 15% of the county’s space could be eliminated by consolidating offices and making other strategic moves.

Boyko penciled $15 million in the tax budget for a capital reserve fund. The bulk of this money became available when the commissioners erased all general fund debt last year. Some of that money will be used to support recommendations that might come out of the study.

Hacker said he is hoping to get more interest in the project by reaching out to the American Institute of Architects to get the word out to its membership that the project is available and extending the timeframe from two to four weeks.

Rogers is “frustrated” it has taken so long to get this project completed.

“As a realtor it’s been gnawing at me since I got here,” Rogers said. “Because it is not the most efficient use of space.”