New Downtown Cooling Plant, which will provide air conditioning for jail and courthouses, expected to be completed in summer of 2021

Facility at Sarasota County Parking Garage to replace aging Central Energy Plant

An aerial map shows the location of the new Downtown Cooling Plant, outlined in red. Image courtesy Sarasota County

On March 20, 2013, the members of the Sarasota County Commission listened as staff led them on a figurative tour of the future in downtown Sarasota.

Among the proposals discussed during that session, staff talked of a 10-story building combining more jail space, more courtrooms and a new central energy plant. That could be constructed, staff said, if the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office’s administrative facilities were relocated from Ringling Boulevard to county-owned property on Cattlemen Road.

The focus that day was on the Sheriff’s Office’s needs. However, in succeeding years, staff began voicing more concerns about the aging Central Energy Plant, which provides air conditioning to the jail, the Lynn N. Silvertooth Judicial Center and a multitude of other county structures, including the Terrace Building, which houses the offices of the Tax Collector, the Supervisor of Elections and the Property Appraiser.

Almost exactly four years later — with plans underway to move the Sheriff’s Office administrative staff into a structure on Cattleridge Boulevard in Sarasota — Jeff Lowdermilk, director of the county’s General Services Department, explained to the County Commission on March 29, 2017, that staff planned to issue a Request for Proposals “within the next month” involving a new Central Energy Plant. His hope, he continued, would be to generate enough interest from companies to provide an update to the board members that summer; then, they could decide how to proceed.

“If this [Central Energy Plant] fails, we’re in all kinds of trouble,” Commissioner Charles Hines stressed that day.

A December 2016 graphic explains the operations of the Central Energy Plant and shows its current location in downtown Sarasota. Image courtesy Sarasota County

During a June 2017 budget workshop, Commissioner Alan Maio offered a scenario that underscored Hines’ statement: 1,000 inmates in the jail in August, with the indoor temperature rising because the Central Energy Plant (CEP) has failed, and staff is waiting on a part being air-freighted to the county.

“You must live in fear of getting that call at 2 a.m.,” Maio told Lowdermilk.

As a result of the Requests for Proposals process, on Feb. 13, 2018, the board concurred with a staff recommendation for a new Central Energy Plant to be built on part of the surface lot at the county parking garage in downtown Sarasota. That structure is located at the intersection of School Avenue and Ringling Boulevard. The existing plant stands next to the Criminal Justice Center, at the intersection of Main Street and East Avenue in Sarasota.

Finally, last week, the commission voted unanimously to issue up to $23 million in bonds, with $10,930,812 of the proceeds planned to finance construction of what is being called the Downtown Cooling Plant. The closing on the bonds is anticipated for mid-May, an April 22 staff memo added.

The board also approved a $14,807,730 design/build agreement with Trane U.S. Inc. for that new facility.

Commissioner Maio made the motion, and Commissioner Nancy Detert seconded it.

The April 22 staff memo, which was provided to the board in advance of the meeting, said the construction of the Downtown Cooling Plant is expected to be completed in the summer of 2021. The associated buried chilled water piping will be located “on and off-site,” the contract says.

Handling business on a shortened schedule because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the commissioners declined a presentation from staff before the vote. No one had signed up to speak during the public hearing on the necessary budget amendment for the issuance of the bonds.

The staff memo noted the expectation that the bonds would be issued with a 20-year amortization period.

Along with covering the cost of the new cooling plant, the money will pay for energy conservation measures, an upgrade to the controls in the East Wing of the jail, and interest on the debt, the memo said. The annual debt payment, the memo added, would average between $1.5 million and $1.6 million. The security for the bonds, the memo explained, would be the county’s half-cent sales tax revenue, with the bonds to be paid back “from general government revenues.”

This exhibit with the April 22 bond resolution provides details about the facilities the bonds will finance. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Details of the contract

“Time is of the essence in the performance of the Work under this Agreement,” the contract with Trane points out.

The company will have 365 calendar days from the time it receives the formal go-ahead to begin construction, the contract notes. Should Trane fail to meet the schedule, the agreement says, the county “shall be entitled to assess, as liquidated damages, but not as a penalty,” $500 for each calendar day beyond the established timeline until substantial completion of the project has been achieved.

An October 2016 chart shows details about some of the components of the Central Energy Plant as of that time. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Further, if the company reaches the substantial completion mark but fails to finish the project on time, the county can assess it $300 per day for each calendar day “until Final Completion is achieved.”

“‘Substantial completion’” is one of the more significant milestones in a construction project, explains. “It is the stage of completion [when] the project is fit for occupancy and use for its intended purpose,” the website adds. At that point, only minor “punch list” items remain.

One attachment to the Trane contract calls for the company to “plan for and initiate a process to coordinate the transfer of the existing Central Energy Plant facility chilled water supply to the new Project chilled water supply. … Planning by [Trane] shall include, but not be limited to, coordination of all new and affected control systems, coordination with County’s system check, chilled water fluid testing and treatments, coordination with County to identify incompatible or at-risk existing chilled water system components, sequencing of start-up operations, interruptions in service at County Facilities, commissioning, manufacturer’s startup services and transfer to operation and maintenance entity services.”