Wright County Approves Bids, Bonding Courts Project

By John Holler, Correspondant

For the last several years, the Wright County Board of Commissioners has dealt with an antiquated courthouse facility. It has become an increasingly worse problem in terms of space, technological capability and potential safety issues as time has gone by. At the April 3 meeting of the county board, the process of getting the courts system into a new campus near the Law Enforcement Center officially got underway.

Facilities Director Alan Wilczek brought to the board the results of the numerous bid openings that were held in a highly competitive bidding market, driving down the projected overall cost of the project, which was initially estimated to be approximately $54 million, but is now less than $48 million.

“It is good news,” Wilczek said. “We got some really good results – some aggressive bids and we’re under budget on this project.” The bids included 35 packages and 131 total bidders.

The bids covered all facets of the construction, including earth moving, landscaping, concrete, masonry, structural steel, carpentry, roofing, heating/cooling, glass, doors, flooring, painting, plumbing and electrical components of the project. The bonds can only be used on the Justice Center, so once the bids were received, a bonding number was determined to come in at or less than the total of the project bid costs. Initially, the cap placed on the project was $54 million, but after making projections, the initial documents presented to the board were for $51.4 million. Given that the amount needed to not to exceed projected costs, the board settled on a bonding number of $47.5 million for project funding, plus the costs associated with the issuance of the bonds, which will likely be around $400,000. The board approved entering into a 20-year repayment term (Fiscal Year 2020-39). The county has a bond rating of AA+ – the second highest possible rating and the highest a county Wright’s size can achieve.

Bruce Kimmel, who has handled several bond issues for the county with the bonding firm Ehlers, told the board that, while there is volatility in the market, the timing is good for bonding a project like the one Wright County is going forward with. “We do recommend a competitive sale approach given this size of bond issue and given the lack of supply in the market,” Kimmel said. “We think, frankly, that there should be a feeding frenzy for these bonds in early May. That’s a great thing. We don’t know where the overall rates will go. Things are pretty volatile right now in the world with potential trade wars and other things going on. In general, when there is volatility and anxiety, people gravitate toward safe bets like (municipal) bonds and that should benefit Wright County and the taxpayers of Wright County as well.”

In real dollars, Wright County saved between $4-5 million in the bid packages approved at the April 3 meeting and, for the second straight big-ticket project, appear to be in line for extremely competitive rates on the bonding process as well.

Commissioner Mike Potter said the county is trying to modernize and the combination of the Highway Department Building project has been fortunate in terms of timing. A couple of gigantic metro projects were bid out in March and the firms that lost out on the bids were coming lean and mean on the Wright County project. “You create your own luck,” Potter said. “On the highway department project, we split up the $17 million funding and we got some phenomenal bids. In that case, we were able to fix up the Public Works Building, remodel a bunch of other things around it and get a lot of things taken care of. We have been able to time these projects where bidders are going to be more competitive. I’m happy where the bids are and the impact to the taxpayers will even be less thanks to the timing of the bids.”

The bond sale will take place May 7 and Kimmel will return to the May 8 board meeting to present the bid totals to the board and approve a final approval of the bonding.

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