Hamilton County halts government and judicial center expansion

Hamilton County leaders are delaying a roughly $24 million project to expand the government and judicial center in Noblesville after bids came in about $300,000 over budget.

The decision comes about a month after the Hamilton County Council approved funding for the project.

In a joint county commissioner and council meeting Wednesday night, leaders decided to hold off on pushing the project forward in hopes that rebidding again later might result in a lower cost estimate.

The county set a $24.17 million budget for the expansion, which would add 132,000 square feet to the building’s west side to alleviate a crunch of space at the 200,000-square-foot facility.

The facility, 1 Hamilton County Square, is home to the county’s court system, meeting rooms for the county commissioners and council, and several county offices. The expansion is necessary in order to relocate a handful of county offices still located in the nearby courthouse and to provide more space for the growing court system.

Construction, utility relocation and other costs already incurred add up to $24.48 million, about $300,000 over budget, documents show, and that cost does not include a build-out of the addition.

Last November, county leaders agreed to approve construction of just the addition’s shell. As funding becomes available and extra space is needed, interior work would be completed, they decided at the time.

But the commissioners had hoped costs would come in below budget, which would allow them to complete at least the first story, estimated to cost an additional $4 million.

The high bids, coupled with the fact they don’t include plans to finish the first floor, left some county leaders feeling uneasy about charging ahead. Essentially, after maxing out their budget, they’d have the exterior of the addition completed, but they wouldn’t be able to use the space.

In an hour-long meeting Wednesday evening, they weighed several options, including a referendum to increase property taxes to pay for the full project, including built-outs of each story.

Ultimately, officials decided to halt the project, saying the designs and architect work already completed will be suitable whenever they decide to move forward.

When that time comes, the county will have to repeat the process for issuing bonds and seeking bids for the project, but doing so will allow it to borrow an additional $3 million without having to go to a referendum, thanks to a change in state law that increased bonding limits.

The commissioners and council members did agree to move forward now with plans to relocate utilities at the site of the expansion, which is estimated to cost about $315,000.

Once that work is done, they’ll revisit the full project, they decided.

“We’re still committed to doing this project,” Commissioner Mark Heirbrandt said.

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