Bids come in below estimates

Published 10:38 am Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Mower County Commissioner Dave Tollefson (Fifth District) called Tuesday’s lower-than-expected jail and justice center bids a “stimulus package for Austin.”

The Mower County board chairman said the response to the county’s call for bids to build a new two-story 128-bed jail and justice center was a result of the economic downturn.

“If you look at all of this, it’s a case of people looking for work,” Tollefson said.

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To put Tuesday’s jail and justice center bid summary into perspective, one has only to consider the $35,424,675 total probable project cost estimate.

The low bids received last Wednesday now put the price tag for the project at $30,671,791; nearly $4.8 million less than predicted.

“Being a businessman, if I was able to say ‘You just saved me about $5 million,’ I’d say you did a very good job,” Dick Lang, Fourth District county commissioner, said.

“You bet,” First District county commissioner Tim Gabrielson said and seconded Lang’s remarks.

The construction management’s John Pristach estimated the low bids will allow for a building construction cost of $23,097,613.

The early estimate for building construction costs was $27,842,356.

This is, perhaps, the key figure revealed Tuesday. The total reflects the actual cost to construct the building. The total project costs adds into that figure such expenses as site acquisition and development, furniture and fixtures, professional fees and other expenses.

No sooner had Pristach of Knutson Construction Services, Inc., and the team of Mike Clark and Carey Everson, representing KKE Architects, Inc., shared that news with the county commissioner, when the good news got better.

Pristach told the commissioners Austin-based firms have the apparent low bids on $8,473,900 worth of work on the new jail and justice center.

That’s 51 percent of the work by volume expected to be awarded, according to Pristach.

Meanwhile, southeastern Minnesota-based firms (including Austin) claimed $12,023,610 or 72 percent of the work to be awarded.

That prompted Tollefson to compare the news to an economic stimulus package for Austin.

The county commissioners will hold a special meeting 1 p.m. Monday, March 16, to act on the bids.

If they are accepted, the big local winners could include: The Joseph Company , $1,361,000 for general trades and concrete work; Schammel Electric, Inc. $2,852,900 for electrical work and Harty Mechanical, Inc., $3,225,000 for plumbing and piping, including geothermal, $1,361,000 for HVAC sheet metal.

The county received 130 bids for 30 different bid packages March 4. Knutson Construction Services, Inc. reviewed the bids and reported their findings to the commissioners Tuesday with a dozen spectators in the audience.

Dave Hillier, Third District county commissioner, echoed his county board peers’ admissions of surprise at just how good the bids were.

Gabrielson, the newest member of the county board elected Nov. 4, 2008, echoed Tollefson “economic stimulus” remarks.

“This is going to pump a lot of money into the Mower County economy,” Gabrielson said.

That won’t happen until the commissioners officially act next Monday to accept the apparent low bids and award contracts to build and equip the new jail and justice center.

Asked their thoughts on the possibility of that happening, the commissioners, to a man — Tollefson, Gabrielson, Lang and Hillier, said they were “leaning that way.”

The new jail and justice center will be constructed on two-blocks of downtown property acquired by the city of Austin.

The facility be built on the south block —Second to Third Avenue Northeast between First and Second Streets — to the north sidewalk along the one-block stretch of Third Avenue Northeast.

The remaining north block property still to be cleared will be reserved for jail expansion needs in the future.

A two-block stretch of First Street Northeast from Fourth Avenue south to Second Avenue will be turned into a one-way southbound only street with parking reserved for jail and justice center personnel.

Meanwhile, the popular Steve’s Pizza restaurant, the last property to leave the south block, will re-open Monday, March 16, at its new location at the intersection of North Main Street and Fourth Avenue Northwest.

Steve’s Pizza is the second business in the jail/justice center’s ground zero to move to North Main Street: George’s Pizza restaurant made the move a month ago to the former South Central Athlete building.

Also Tuesday, the commissioners accepted a low bid in the amount of $106,622 from Winona Mechanical to demolish the three-story Robbins block buildings. Mower County acquired the one square block of property across Second First Street Northeast from the downtown government center from private property owners with a $1.5 million grant from the city of Austin.

The county plans to clear the block and construct a geothermal well field there to heat the new jail and justice center. A parking lot will cover the geothermal wells.