By Bob Belcher
Corsicana Daily Sun
The next step in the proposed restoration of the Navarro County Courthouse takes place Tuesday when county commissioners open proposals from contractors.
County commissioners and County Judge H.M. Davenport Jr. have been working with architects and the Texas Historic Commission for the past couple of years on a proposal to restore the 100-year-old courthouse, modernize its electrical, plumbing and mechanical systems, and return the structure to its initial appearance, funded partially by a $4.44 million grant. The county has already received and spent a $450,000 planning grant from the state, and has spent an additional $150,000 of its own money in preparation for the possible project.
The deadline for the contractor proposals, initially set for June 6, has been moved twice at the request of contractors, and is now set for 2 p.m. Tuesday, June 18.
With the receipt of the proposals, commissioners may have a better idea of what the overall costs of the project would be, and how much in additional funding it will have to seek through certificates of obligation to fund the project, in addition to the $4.44 million grant from the Texas Historic Commission.
Davenport said a committee including Commissioner Dick Martin, Planning and Development Director Phil Seely and County Auditor Kathy Hollomon would be reviewing the proposals, as well as the county’s architect and financial advisor.
“We’ll be reviewing those proposals to arrive at the lowest, qualified cost,” Davenport said. Davenport explained a “rating system” will be used to help the county analyze the proposals and rate the contractor’s experience and previous performance.
Estimates from the architects working on the restoration proposal have put the project’s price tag at about $9.865 million, but those figures are about two years old. The previous estimates do not include the cost of temporarily relocating the courthouse functions for up to three years — the estimated time frame for the work — the cost of moving out and back into a restored courthouse, or the cost of a courthouse annex to house offices presently in the courthouse that would not be able to return due to the reconfiguration of the building dictated by the Texas Historic Commission. Davenport said talks have been held with vendors and a needs analysis is being performed to determine what the moving and IT will run, but no estimates of those costs have been finalized.
Davenport said the county leaders have been in talks with the Navarro Centre on Main Street for temporary quarters for the courthouse operations, and are talking with the Corsicana Independent School District about the possible purchase of the CISD Administration Building and the adjoining brick buildings as the site of a possible annex for the county. The school district had planned to build a new administration building as part of a $54 million bond proposal, but that package was turned down by district voters on May 11. Davenport said CISD Superintendent Dr. Diane Frost told him the district is still interested in selling the present administration building. Davenport cited its proximity to the courthouse as a good location for a permanent annex, one that could house the tax office, both probation departments, and possibly the county extension offices and Planning and Development office. He did not disclose a purchase price being discussed for the buildings.
The county’s share of the total project is anything above $4.44 million being provided by the state. It’s still unclear whether or not certificate of obligation bonds can be used to pay for some of the aspects of the project, such as moving the courthouse operations and the costs of an annex building. Those are decisions that will be made by the Attorney General’s office.
Several steps remain, however, before the project can move forward.
A majority of the commissioners court would have to approve the certificate of obligation issue to fund the county’s share of the project, assume the new debt, and move the restoration project forward.
Public notice of the time and place of that vote will have to be published twice, the first such publication not less than 30 days prior to the vote, including the maximum amount of the proposed issue, the use of the funds, and how the obligation will be paid for — in the county’s case, through property taxes.
The current debt tax rate for the county is 2 cents per $100 valuation. Those funds are dedicated now to paying off the county’s existing bond debt of $1.02 million, the last of the money owed on the Navarro County Jail. That debt is scheduled to be retired in 2015. The county’s total tax rate is .6270 for every $100 in appraised value.
Navarro County voters could have the final say on the project, however, should a successful petition challenge to a certificate of obligation issue be launched. A valid petition signed by 5 percent of the county’s registered voters filed within 30 days of the commissioners court’s vote of intent to issue certificates would mean voters would get to decide whether or not the county could issue the certificates.
Should a successful petition challenge occur, the commissioners court would have to call a November election and obtain voter approval in order to issue the certificates. Without voter approval, the certificates could not be sold. Commissioners could either order an election be held to seek voter approval, or not order an election and not be able to issue the certificates.
As of June 14, there were 26,754 registered voters in Navarro County according to the Navarro County Elections Office — 1,338 valid signatures on a petition would trigger the public vote requirement. The deadline to order a November election is Aug. 26.
The initial timeline adopted by commissioners called for a decision on the intent to issue certificates at the court’s regularly scheduled June 24 meeting, which would open the 30 day public notice and petition filing window. That date was established based on receiving the proposals on June 6.
Whether or not that timeline can remain as is depends on how long it takes the county committee, the county financial advisor and architects can go through the final proposals from contractors expected on Tuesday, Davenport said Friday.
“There might be a shift to a week later, it could be two weeks,” he said. “That still keeps us within the time frame we need to be in.”
Bob Belcher may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Want to “soundoff” on this story? Email: email@example.com