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Firm makes case for courthouse
Commission has final say Tuesday
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Forsyth County News

A firm that presented the initial proposal for Forsyth County’s new courthouse and jail expansion received two committee recommendations to land the architectural and engineering contract.

Wakefield Beasley & Associates of Norcross received unanimous votes from both the selection committee and the project team Monday as the best choice to design the facilities.

The Forsyth County commission has the final vote on the hire, which was expected to come during a meeting Tuesday.

At Monday’s project team meeting, Donna Kukarola, the county’s procurement director, said Wakefield Beasley was the top choice of the five voting members in the architectural selection committee.

The firm bid about $3.97 million for the project, which she said was close in price with the other suitors.

The proposal from Pieper O'Brien Herr Architects of Alpharetta totaled about $3.83 million, but did not include the cost for off-site utility design as did Wakefield.

KSGW Architects, also of Alpharetta, bid about $3.94 million, including costs for the requested traffic study or off-site utility design.

Wakefield Beasley prepared a preliminary plan for the buildings in spring 2011, prior to the November 1-cent sales tax referendum that voters approved.

The seventh round of the special purpose local option sales tax, or SPLOST VII, is estimated to generate about $100 million for a new courthouse, jail expansion and associated parking.

In addition to presenting the initial plan, Wakefield was also one of the top contributors, donating $5,000, to Citizens for Progress, a resident committee formed to back the passage of the sales tax extension.

According to campaign finance disclosure reports, the other two firms did not make donations to the effort.

Also during Monday’s meeting, the project team received an update on the new building program, as prepared by project manager Joe Lee of Carter Goble Lee.

“Overbuilding is a problem and underbuilding is a problem,” Lee said. “So what we’re trying to do is nail it down.”

The plan calls for about 194,000 square feet for the detention center, with 672 beds, and about 150,000 square feet for the courthouse.

The courthouse is proposed at five stories and the connection to the jail across East Maple Street could be by bridge, tunnel or a third option to be discussed later, Lee said.

He also recommended permanently closing Veterans Memorial Boulevard between the existing and new courthouse to ensure safety for pedestrians and create a plaza.

The project team approved discussing the possibility with the Georgia Department of Transportation, since the road is under the state’s jurisdiction.

For the detention center, Lee got the go-ahead to review inmate projections, which he said could lead to a smaller footprint.

Lee also proposed putting one magistrate court hearing room in the expanded detention center, which he said currently accounts for about 95 percent of the trips from the jail.

Lee also asked for office space to be used as a center of operations for the three to four months of construction, allowing those involved to easily review plans and communicate.

He planned to see if the city of Cumming has space available to review permitting and tap fees for the buildings.

Lee also discussed the importance of locking in on the plans for financing the construction projects soon.

“It’s a pretty complex project from the standpoint of all the activity that’s going to be occurring in a very small space,” he said. “The more the finance charges, the more pressure it puts on the building side.”

Forsyth’s finance director, David Gruen, said the projects will require borrowing about $50 million to meet the needs of the schedule.

The cost of borrowing from a bank was estimated at $5.27 million, versus about $4.95 million if obtained through bonds, Gruen said.

According to Gruen, financing would begin in January to be repaid by the sales tax revenues in 2019.

The project team held off on a decision Monday, but asked for a meeting in late September to vote on a financing recommendation for the county commission.