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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/J.T. WAMPLER County Judge Barry Moehring (right) points east toward Northeast B Street from behind the Benton County Circuit Court building Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2017 with Allie McKenzie, (left) and Chang-Ming Yeh, both of the National Center for State Courts, in Bentonville. Moehring, along with other interested county personnel and consultants, took a tour of the chosen site for a new courts building in downtown Bentonville.

BENTONVILLE -- The hiring of a construction manager and bond consultant for the courts building project is close, Benton County officials said.

The county received eight responses for the construction management work and three applicants for the bond counsel work, County Judge Barry Moehring said.

Courts update

County Judge Barry Moehring will brief the justices of the peace on the courts building project at Tuesday’s meeting of the Committee of the Whole. The committee will meet at 6 p.m. in the Quorum Courtroom in the County Administration Building, 215 E. Central Ave.

Source: Staff report

The construction management applicants will be narrowed to three and face-to-face interviews then will be held, Moehring said. The county will review the three bond counsel applicants and choose one. The firms are the Rose Law Firm of Little Rock; Friday, Eldredge & Clark of Little Rock; and Mitchell/Williams of Rogers.

"These guys are all pretty well known and we don't believe an interview process is required." Moehring said of the bond counsel applicants.

Design work is underway and adding a construction management firm and bond counsel will help the process, Moehring said.

"With the additions we'll be narrowing in on costs and financing options," he said. "Before too long it won't just be design concepts, it'll be price tags on the designs or on different parts of them and financing options."

Discussion on a new courts building has gone on for years. Early studies identified possible sites downtown and another on county land near the Benton County Jail on Southwest 14th Street. The Quorum Court voted earlier this year to keep the courts downtown.

Hight-Jackson Associates was hired to do architectural design work. The National Center for State Courts from Denver will provide courtroom design. The Hight-Jackson contract is for $122,500, plus additional costs, for phase I. NCSC will be paid $135,000, plus costs. The two firms worked on an initial new courts building study that was presented in 2014. That study and a second one commissioned by the county will be used as a basis for new design work, Moehring said. Building designs likely will take the rest of the year to complete, Moehring said.

Circuit Judge Doug Schrantz represents the county's six circuit judges on the project. Schrantz discussed the status of the work with Moehring on Thursday, after Moehring met with Hight-Jackson and NCSC.

"It's still pretty vague, preliminary," Schrantz said. "What they've got now is still mostly conceptual, like the drawings we've seen before, with blocks of space."

The circuit judges are still weighing the same issues they always have been concerned with -- safety, functionality and long-term adequacy, Schrantz said.

"All we're interested in is building it right," he said.

Pat Adams, justice of the peace, said he looks forward to hearing from the bond counsel the county chooses. Moehring has said his goal is to finance the project from the county's reserve and existing revenue, with no tax increase or new tax. Adams said he is skeptical of that approach. He favors a short-term, dedicated sales tax increase, most likely with a one-year sunset provision.

"If we take existing revenue we're going to be pulling money out of the general fund and taking away funds from the Road Department, the Sheriff's Office, the County Clerk, Collector and Assessor," Adams said. "Every department is going to take a lot of hits if we have to service a bond issue. In my mind, we're a debt-free county and we need to stay that way if at all possible. With a sales tax some of the money will come from tourism and the rest will come from people across the county, in the cities and in the rural areas. If we have a 20- or 30-year bond issue where's the money going to come from? If it's strictly on the rural part of the county there's no way I'm going to support it."

Tom Allen, justice of the peace and chairman of the Finance Committee, hopes the project will move faster once the county hires a construction management firm and bond counsel. Allen wants a financing plan ready by the end of the year.

"I guess I'd say I'm nervously confident in where we are," Allen said. "This has been going on for a long time and I'd like to see it more a little bit faster, but this may be as fast as government can move. For my comfort level we need to kick it into a higher gear. I'm not sure what the design will be by the end of the year, but I do believe we'll have a recommendation on how to finance it."

NW News on 09/11/2017

Print Headline: County moves ahead with court project

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