Escalator fixes, garage improvements part of $3.6M in requests to Butler County

Many of the $3.6 million in capital improvement requests are focused on making it easier for people to do business with Butler County, with building and software upgrades.

All of the departments under the commissioners’ direct control and some office holders submitted capital improvement requests for next year. Now the commissioners will decide which projects to fund next year.

“I encouraged the departments and those elected offices participating to submit which projects they determined to be necessary and/or worthy of their interests and needs to conduct successful operations,” County Administrator Judi Boyko said. “I emphasized, however, focus and attention would first be prioritized on essential structural improvements, building systems, and operational systems for county buildings necessary to continue efficient and effective county services.”

The largest capital outlay request was $259,407 for a software upgrade on technology used by the development department and a host of other offices. Development Director David Fehr said he “about fell out of my chair” when he saw the price, but noted the upgrade will make it much easier for people to do business with the county.

“The thing we’re kind of excited about is they actually have an app for your phone, so that our customers and contractors can use the phone app to do work with the permitting system,” he said.

Visitors to the Government Services Center and Administration Building have often been inconvenienced by broken escalators and elevators. The capital requests include a $240,000 fix for the GSC lobby escalators and $256,744 for elevator upgrades in several county buildings.

Another item that once carried a large cost but now made the proposed project list is automating the county garage.

The commissioners dubbed the five-story, 623-space garage at the corner of Court Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard a “Stone Age” garage back in 2015 and asked staff to start work on fully automating the structure. It operates as a cash-only, pay-at-the-gate facility.

RELATED: Butler County needs $3.6M in work on its buildings. Some could bring in more money.

Proposals to automate the garage, making it more user friendly and allowing the ability to generate revenue from community events — ranging from $100,000 to $400,000 — were submitted several years ago. The commissioners paused the plan last year because it was too expensive, but will now revisit rates, automation and other aspects of the operation.

Facilities Manager Mark Gadd estimated fully automating the garage at around $150,000. Boyko penciled the project in for $60,000 to install one automated lane to “enhance parking options by accepting credit card payments.”

Commissioner T.C. Rogers said he hasn’t made up his mind about any of the capital improvement requests but as for garage automation, “at the moment that looks favorable.”

Absent on the list is an estimated $1.3 million in renovations at the Historic Courthouse. It needs a roof, stair replacement on the Court Street side of the building and other repairs. Boyko said that decision is up to the commissioners.

Commissioner Don Dixon said unless he is told there is some critical repair necessary, he would like to address courthouse needs after all the general fund debt dissolves at the end of next year. The county will have an estimated extra $9 million to invest in capital needs and economic development endeavors.

“We could do it now but prudent place to put it was in the 2020 plan,” Dixon said. “I’m aware of any critical major safety issues with it that would warrant moving it up sooner.”

Not on the Capital Improvement Plan is more than $2 million for the sheriff’s office. Chief Deputy Anthony Dwyer said they have a long-range list of projects, like a new dishwasher for the jail where about 1,000 inmates eat three times a day, that constantly needs expensive repairs. His estimate for the dishwasher is $50,000 to $60,000.

He said not all the projects are critical now but they want to keep the commissioners apprised of future needs so they won’t be surprised when a large expenditure becomes necessary.

“The $2.5 million is what we’ve put in but clearly that is a place-marker to let the commissioners know our future needs,” Dwyer said. “It’s not something that we’re looking at expending in 2020 at all, if at all, and a lot of that comes down with our financial health and if we can keep it limping along.”

Dixon said he expects they will probably approve the same amount as this year, around $2 million.

Five large Butler County capital requests

1. Development Department software upgrade: $259,407

2. Upgrade elevators in several county buildings: $256,744

3. Replace roof over courts in Government Services Center: $250,000

4. Repair escalators at Government Services Center: $2 40,000

5. Replace road to Juvenile Justice Center: $194,000

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