With costs whittled down, County Commission preparing to move forward on three major facilities projects

Bid process for designs of a new South County courthouse and Anderson Administration Center renovations, a new Sheriff’s Office Fleet Maintenance Facility and a new Central Energy Plant expected to start early next year

A graphic shows how court facilities could be separated from other offices in the renovated R.L. Anderson Administration Center and connected to a new courthouse structure. Image courtesy Sarasota County

With Sarasota County Commission consensus this week, staff will move forward with adding three high-priority projects to the county’s Capital Improvement Project (CIP) program — and at roughly a third of the total original cost estimate for them.

Those projects are the new Sheriff’s Office Fleet Maintenance Facility on Laurel Road; a new single-story, four-courtroom building on the R.L. Anderson Administration Center property in Venice — plus renovations of the Anderson Center; and a new Central Energy Plant to replace the one in downtown Sarasota.

The next step will be for staff to prepare formal design estimates for the projects, which will come back to the board for approval.

Chair Alan Maio and Commissioner Charles Hines praised Chief County Engineer Isaac Brownman, Public Works/Capital Projects Manager Brad Gaubatz and other staff members who were involved in whittling down the estimated expenses of the projects from more than $200 million.

“Our staff worked a miracle,” Maio said. “That is an immense effort.” He added, “We’ve really got to get going on this.”

At Hines’ suggestion — and with full board agreement — staff will come back no later than February 2017 with estimates for the design work necessary to undertake each of the three projects. In February 2017, the commission has planned an extensive review of its Capital Improvement Project program, including the possibility that it will re-prioritize items on the list.

The latest figures

A chart shows projected total funding needs for the facilities. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Preliminary projections put the total cost of the Fleet Maintenance Facility, the Anderson Center/courts project and the Central Energy Plant replacement at $65,220,000, according to figures Brownman showed the board during its Dec. 13 regular meeting in Venice. Through use of impact fees that would be available for the work, Brownman noted, the cost could be reduced further to about $55,910,000. That would mean an annual debt service of $3,820,000 for the county, which could be covered through a millage rate increase of .0737 mills, adding $14.74 to the yearly tax bill of a property owner with a house valued at $200,000, Brownman pointed out.

In response to a comment from Maio, Brownman agreed that it probably would be the 2019 fiscal year before any debt repayment would begin, if the county borrowed money for the projects.

Individually, the estimated expenses are $17,290,000 for the Sheriff’s Office Fleet Maintenance Facility (after figuring in available impact fee funding); $20,620,000 for the new South County courthouse structure and renovations to the Anderson Center (after factoring in impact fee revenue); and $18 million for the Central Energy Plant (CEP), which supplies chilled water for air conditioning to a number of county facilities in downtown Sarasota, including the Detention Center, the historic courthouse, the Silvertooth Judicial Center and the Terrace Building. The CEP also contains the primary electrical distribution system for those structures, Brownman said.

The goal was to try to get the cost estimate for each project below the County Charter cap for borrowing funds without voter approval. That cap is $22.6 million, Brownman told the board.

County Administrator Tom Harmer. File photo

Additionally, County Administrator Tom Harmer reported that he has been working with staff of the Sheriff’s Office on the county’s potential purchase of a building in the Cattlemen Road area for use by that office in lieu of the proposed Public Safety Campus. The latter originally was planned to be built next to the county’s Emergency Operations Center on Cattlemen Road. Harmer called this new approach to remedying the Sheriff’s Office administrative facility needs “a very cost-effective option.”

As Hines pointed out, the board decided in May to halt plans for a referendum on the fleet facility, the Anderson Center changes and courthouse addition, and the Public Safety Campus because of concerns about the total expense voters would be facing. At that point, Hines continued, the board had not seen staff go through an intensive exercise to try to whittle down the costs.

The R.L. Anderson project

In response to a question from Hines, Brownman noted that the original estimate for providing new South County court facilities and the Anderson renovations was about $45 million.

After working with the stakeholders — including the South County Bar Association, the Sheriff’s Office and the county’s constitutional officers, who have space in the Anderson Center — Brownman explained that the concept staff had settled on was for a new one-story structure with four courtrooms. About 75% of the Anderson Center will be renovated, he added.

Although the initial plan was to move the county’s Planning and Development Services office and the Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office to the second floor of the existing building, he said, Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates had voiced concerns that that would hinder members of the public who need her staff’s services. As a result, he continued, “we are very confident that if the board were to choose to move forward [with the option as presented], we could keep the tax collector on the first floor.”

An aerial view shows the existing R.L. Anderson Administration Center campus in Venice. Image courtesy Sarasota County

After looking at his colleagues, Maio told Brownman that was the commission consensus. The Tax Collector’s Office “belongs on the first floor,” Maio added.

An earlier concern with construction on the Anderson site, Brownman continued, was that the “very deep” borrow pits and two ponds would have to be filled to create sufficient parking space. However, he noted, the latest concept would eliminate that work. Parking spaces could be constructed at some future time in the area where the Florida Highway Patrol building is located, on the northeastern corner of the property, he added.

Maio asked about whether the potential would exist for connecting a driveway from U.S. 41 to State Road 776 — on the opposite side of the site. Brownman replied, “Potentially.” The main driveway from U.S. 41 could be shifted to make that possible, he said.

“Perfect,” Maio responded.

Brad Gaubatz. File photo

Then Project Manager Gaubatz explained that, because of the significant need for secured access to the court-related facilities in the renovated Anderson Center, staff had come up with the concept of a corridor that would be separate from other offices. People would have to go through metal detectors to enter that corridor, Gaubatz said. “The idea is to make that a closed envelope. … We’ve had some great conversations with the stakeholders,” he continued, leading to that preliminary design component.

Hines called the corridor concept “really a big deal.”

“Let me commend you guys for going back to the drawing board many, many times,” and for working with the South County Bar Association, Hines told Brownman and Gaubatz.

The majority of people in the county live south of Blackburn Point Road, Hines continued. “We need these [court] services in the future.”

When he began practicing law about 22 years ago in Venice, Hines pointed out, more services were available for litigants. Chief Judge Charles Williams of the 12th Judicial Circuit has agreed “to expand Circuit civil [services] here [after the beginning of 2017],” Hines added. “That’s a very huge point, that we’re just trying really to restore services … that were here decades ago.”

The Central Energy Plant and the fleet facility

Thanks to research by the Office of the County Attorney, Brownman continued, it may not cost the county anything to build a new Central Energy Plant (CEP). Florida Statute 489.145 allows what is called an ESCO process to solicit design/build options for such a facility, he explained. That entails an in-depth energy audit that potentially could result in lower costs for the county that would offset the expense of new construction. Various ownership models are available as well, he said.

The current structure — which he believes dates to 1997 and which was built through an ESCO process — is functioning at 100% capacity, Brownman noted. Its components are expected to reach their end-of-life points between 2017 and 2025, he added. “We’re monitoring those regularly.”

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

The ESCO process takes about six months, Brownman pointed out, but staff already is working on the scope of work for it, so the initiative could start soon. He anticipated being able to report back to the board in the summer of 2017 on staff’s efforts.

When Hines asked whether the county would have to shoulder any expense to undertake the ESCO path, Brownman replied that it is his understanding no cost would be incurred. “We don’t believe there is a downside [to it] at this point.”

In response to a question from Commissioner Mike Moran Brownman said that, as far as he understands the situation, “we are in full ownership [of the CEP].”

Underscoring the need for the new CEP, Maio told Moran and Commissioner Nancy Detert — who joined the board on Nov. 22 — that the facility’s replacement was delayed by the Great Recession. “I want you to think about August,” he continued. “One hundred degrees and a thousand prisoners [in the county Detention Center]. Our Sheriff’s Office has to keep a lid on that.”

During the summer, Maio added, county staff reported what Maio characterized as “a couple of near misses,” with equipment having to be brought in by air freight on an emergency basis “to keep the system patched together.”

With regard to the Sheriff’s Office Fleet Maintenance Facility, Brownman noted that little had changed with that concept since the board last discussed it during the summer. (See the related story in this issue.)