Frustrating process

Planning efforts to renovate and expand the Hamilton County Law Enforcement Center ended this time around in unanimous frustration.
Law enforcement officials, especially, have to be scratching their heads, wondering how such a needed project ran off the rails. Anyone who steps foot in the existing facility, built in 1972 to accommodate one-fifth of the people it houses today, will conclude that changes need to be made, sooner than later. The existing facility is terribly overcrowded, inefficient and not as secure as it needs to be in today’s world.
County commissioners are also understandably frustrated, though their angst is tied more to a horribly misleading planning/bidding process than the need for the project itself. In the end, it wasn’t totally surprising that the county board rejected the bids on a 3-2 vote.
If there is a finger of blame to be pointed in how this scenario played out it should be aimed toward Omaha and the planning, architectural engineering firm of Prochaska & Associates. What started a few months ago with an initial, ballpark estimate of $739,000 for renovation work, a new basement and sallyport ended up with a $1.25 million bid for the renovation work alone. Turns out that number wasn’t anywhere near the ballpark. That’s a mind-boggling increase in cost that can’t simply be explained away or blamed on high bids.
Had the conversation started with an expectation of spending $1.25 million or more to do what most agree needs to be done, the outcome would have likely been different. Prochaska & Associates was so far off on the initial estimates the company has lost credibility on this project and should not be at the table going forward.
As to the question of seeking public input, this project should not require a public vote. Voters have elected officials to make these kind of decisions. Though this project isn’t cheap and won’t likely get any less expensive with a fresh bidding process, the dollar figure alone should not prompt a thumbs up or down at the polls.
With the city agreeing to pay 40 percent of the cost, county officials could and should start the new year with a new engineering company and firm resolve to figure out a way to get this done. Doing nothing is not a viable option.
Kurt Johnson

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