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Courthouse savings now may be costly down road

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Courthouse savings now may be costly down road

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By MARY KELLI PALKA

The Times-Union

By cutting space to meet current budget requirements for a new Duval County Courthouse, Jacksonville could be setting taxpayers up to pay as much as $37 million to expand the main building within as few as five years after completion.

Mayor John Peyton is expected within the next couple weeks to decide how to cut more than $50 million in costs from the courthouse complex being built downtown a couple blocks from Hemming Plaza. City leaders were planning on some expansion down the road, but the current design was supposed to meet Jacksonville's space needs until at least 2020.

Peyton has promised to keep the project at its current $232 million budget, but an independent audit recently showed that costs are much higher now.

One option for cutting costs includes deferring the construction of two wings on the north and south sides of the building. It would save about $12 million, city officials have estimated.

The city then could build the wings in the future when there's a need for more space. If that day comes in 2013, about five years after it's expected to open, it could cost between $28 million and $37 million to add the wings, the city's project manager, Chris Boruch, wrote in an undated document.

Mayoral aide Susan Wiles said no budget cuts have been approved by Peyton.

"It's fair to say that 232 means 232 for a while and he recognizes that it's not necessarily prudent to defer for such as short time into the future," Wiles said.

Peyton said he wants a cost-effective, functional and effective design for $232 million and an expansion is expected at some point because the community will continue to grow, causing a need for more space.

Earlier in the week, Peyton learned about five options that incorporated various degrees of cuts, but Chief Operating Officer Dan Kleman said the one being given the most consideration is the last option, with almost $57 million in reductions.

The cuts include cutting off the dome, eliminating the rotunda, simplifying the design of the concrete panels on the outside of the building, eliminating the seventh floor and deferring construction of the two wings. It could reduce the square footage of the main courthouse from a high of 909,052 to about 700,000, according to records from the architect, Cannon Design.

Clerk of court personnel and court administration staff were expected to work in the two wings. If the wings are eliminated, one option city officials are considering is moving the staff to the fifth floor of the building, Kleman said.

The fifth floor had been planned to be mostly empty space that, when needed, would hold up to 12 additional courtrooms without having to build onto the structure. Another 31 courtrooms are expected to be complete when the building opens.

The city would save about $12 million by not building the wings now, according to city records.

Kleman and Boruch said no one knows for sure when an addition might be needed.

"We're trying to build the highest quality building we can build within a $232 million budget," Kleman said.

He said to do that, some features will have to be cut.

City officials have been talking to judges and other courthouse users to get their input on potential cuts. The judges have declined to comment to the news media.

KBJ Architects, one company that competed to design the courthouse, said it offered the city this week another option to save money.

KBJ's Thomas Rensing said his firm still is able and willing to use its design for the courthouse, keep it within the $232 million and not have to shelve any space. The KBJ design has eight floors, would be about 935,000 square feet and include 43 courtrooms, Rensing said. Plus, he said it would take up less space so the city could sell about two blocks of land.

Kleman said he's not anticipating a change in architects.

Voters approved a half-cent sales tax in 2000 to fund the Better Jacksonville Plan, which includes the courthouse, other public buildings, road improvements and land conservation. The courthouse originally was expected to cost $190 million.

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How to make budget

The new Duval County Courthouse is over its $232 million budget proposed by Mayor John Peyton. Here's one scenario to cut $56.7 million in costs:

Major design changes: $23.5 million

Defer building north and south wings, which also reduces the basement size.

Eliminate dome.

Eliminate rotunda and change the east entrance.

Simplify design of concrete panels on the outside of the building.

Combine the sixth and seventh floors.

$16 million

Mechanical, electrical, plumbing, security and elevator changes:

Eliminate some elevators.

No extended warranty for heating, ventilating and air-conditioning system.

Reduce fire alarm terminal cabinet locations.

No soft water system.

$17.2 million

Civil, structural and architectural changes:

Use asphalt instead of concrete in some areas outside the building, n Use carpet instead of stone in most inside areas.

No wall paneling in courtrooms and other locations.

Use flush stain maple doors instead of cherry doors.

Eliminate all stone wall surfaces.

Delete benches in public areas.

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After reading this, I truley believe that its in the best interests of the taxpayers, for this thing to go back to the drawing board or at least consider some of the old proposals. KBJ's plans & offer look like a pretty good option to consider right now.

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I'm glad KBJ offered. I doubt the city would ever change architects, but it would be in their best interest. If they decide to go with the current design, I think that all the changes should be interior changes. Not everyone will go inside the courthouse, but everyone will see the exterior. The dome and open rotunda should be left alone, and decorative concrete paneling on the outside should remain as well. It shouldn't become a box. Also, if they have to change something on the outside, they should eliminate the part that will close off the streets. I was disappointed when I found out that they were closing streets.

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So basically this is going from a pretty decent courthouse that could really add something to the architectural database of the city to a shotty and cheap design..sux.

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