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story.lead_photo.caption Barry Moehring

BENTONVILLE -- Benton County has assembled a team officials hope will turn plans for a new courthouse into a reality.

Nabholz Construction of Rogers was chosen to provide construction management services, County Judge Barry Moehring said.

Old post office

Benton County owns the old post office building on the northeast corner of the downtown square in Bentonville. It was built in 1935 and later acquired by the county for office space. The building houses Benton County Circuit Judge Brad Karren’s court. County officials have seen several concepts for a new courts building on the site, with some preserving the building and others razing it.

Source: Staff report

One factor in choosing Nabholz was the recent work it did in expanding the jail, Moehring said.

"We were very impressed with their work on that," he said.

The county is waiting on a formal proposal from Nabholz detailing the fees and scope of work, Moehring said Friday. The work in the first phase, which is expected to result in the county having detailed architectural plans and cost estimates sometime around the end of 2017, likely will have a flat fee. The cost of construction management services for the rest of the project probably will be a percentage of the total project cost.

The selection of Nabholz completes the team of companies that will work on the project. Hight-Jackson Associates will provide architectural service and the National Center for State Courts will provide design expertise. The county recently chose Friday, Eldridge & Clark as the bond counsel.

Moehring told the Committee of the Whole on Sept. 12 the most recent concepts show a building of four or five stories, with 80,000 to 90,000 square feet, on a site on Northeast Second Street. There will be space for eight courtrooms and judges' chambers, with additional space for the Circuit Clerk, County Clerk and other related offices. The cost is estimated at $20 million to $25 million.

Pat Adams, justice of the peace, said construction management is an important part of a project of this size.

"Basically if you hire a construction manager they oversee the bid process and make sure all the contractors and subcontractors are licensed, insured and legal. They monitor the cost of the bids and the work. They're going to be basically the boss of the job," Adams said.

Discussion on a 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.

Some discussion of the downtown location has included the fate of the old U.S. Post Office now used by Circuit Judge Brad Karren. Preservationists want to keep the building, which opened in 1935, intact for some use. The concepts being considered keep the old building in place, but also identify the site as potential expansion space, Moehring said.

Joel Jones, justice of the peace, said having the bond counsel and construction management firms should get the project moving quickly after years of talk.

"We can actually move forward on this now," Jones said.

The biggest remaining hurdle will be how to pay for the project, Jones said. Representatives from Friday, Eldridge & Clark will make a presentation on funding options to the Finance Committee on Oct. 3. Moehring has said he prefers to pay for the building from existing revenue and not seek a tax increase.

"That's the only place we could probably have any contentious discussion on right now," Jones said. "I know the judge wants to pay for it out of reserves and existing revenue. The discussion will be whether or not that's the best course of action. But that's not insurmountable."

Adams still plans to push for a tax dedicated to the courts building. He's trying to get information on the possible revenue from a 1 percent sales tax with a one-year sunset provision, and the share of that revenue that would be contributed by tourism rather than residents. Adams doesn't want the county to take on any debt.

"Once you start down that road I don't know that you ever get out of it," Adams said. "It's like credit card debt. My way, you can pay for it in one year and be done."

Tom Allen, justice of the peace and chairman of the Finance Committee, prefers to use existing revenue to pay for the project. Benton County's growth makes him optimistic the county will see increases in revenue from property tax and sales tax, Allen said. Allen wants to have an open debate on the financing options.

"I've asked for a five-year projection on where we're going to sit on property tax and sales tax, taking into account the census changes after 2020 and possible annexations," he said. "Nothing is guaranteed, but Benton County, particularly with Wal-Mart's recent announcement of a new home office driving a solid stake into the ground, I don't see the area having a significant downturn. But we're going to have to discuss it and debate it and see where the majority comes down."

NW News on 09/25/2017

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