By Daniel Brunty
The Webster Progress-Times
An engineer and an architect presented a structural evaluation of the Webster County Courthouse and related construction cost estimates to the Board of Supervisors on July 24.
Structural engineer Mark Watson of Shannon informed supervisors that the remaining structure of the fire-damaged courthouse is structurally sound and repairable. Local architect Belinda Stewart and others from her firm discussed their findings during their evaluations and provides an estimated cost to determine options of what can be done with the courthouse. The county contracted with Watson to provide a structural evaluation of the courthouse and with Stewart’s firm to provide cost estimates to determine the feasibility of restoring it.
Watson began the meeting with a brief recap of information from his “Fire Damage Structural Evaluation.” He explained the locations where the fire did the most damage and the locations where the structure was still sound. Areas of interest that Watson referenced were the walls and floors, with most of these still being sound enough to rebuild around.
Watson also gave supervisors suggestions of what they would need to concentrate on if they decided to rebuild the courthouse from the remaining shell.
Following Watson, Stewart gave a summary of her cost estimates as well as explaining the process her firm went through to determine those figures. By preparing a cost estimate analysis independent of the insurance company’s estimate, Stewart and her team were able to provide a comparison to determine that the overall totals were similar.
Once this was determined, the firm was able to analyze each item separately to see where the differences were between its estimates and the insurance company’s estimates, and thus was able to determine a cost estimate. The insurance firm, Stephenson Consulting Group, gave a base estimate of $3,226,510. This estimate is in reference to the courthouse being rebuilt from the remaining shell. That estimate did not include all fees, which Stewart pointed out to the board.
Stewart then gave the supervisors her estimated costs for both rebuilding the courthouse from the remains or demolishing the remaining structure and building a completely new building. She also showed the supervisors examples of other courthouses that had rebuilt after fire damage. These were to give the supervisors some ideas on certain designs that could possibly be used in the rebuilding of the courthouse.
Other options Stewart presented to the supervisors were the possibility of using more of the space within the property lines of the courthouse grounds. These options included parking structures, as well as buildings that could be built within the space to possibly use in conjunction with the courthouse.
Stewart also told the supervisors of the possibilities of additional funding through such agencies as the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Mississippi Department of Transportation and the Mississippi Development Authority. She also gave suggestions of what could be done to the site of the courthouse to make it more attractable to receive grant money and other additional funds.
The board members did have concerns in regards to the actual design of the building once it was completed. President Pat Cummings stated his concerns regarding the limited amount of space that the courthouse had issues with before the fire. Stewart and her team brought up the idea of possibly building additional buildings close to the courthouse to resolve the space issues. These additional buildings could be used for having another courthouse, storage or relocating personnel and their departments.
With Stewart and her team only providing an architectural analysis, they did not go into specific reconstruction ideas for the courthouse. She informed the supervisors that once they made their decision on what direction they would like to go regarding rebuilding the courthouse, that her firm could easily design plans custom to the needs of the employees of the courthouse.
No decisions were made at the time of the meeting. Cummings and the board plan to review the information with the county’s insurance firm in regard to estimated costs.
David Marsh, founder and president of Jackson-based Benchmark Construction Corp., met with supervisors Tuesday afternoon in the Justice Court courtroom, where they were working on the new budget. Marsh was not on the agenda but said he decided to stop by because he was in the area.
Marsh, according to the discussion and confirmation by Cummings, has voluntarily prepared cost estimates for new courthouse construction. He sat in on previous board meetings when insurance company officials met with supervisors after the courthouse fire.
“Our job is to protect the county from overspending,” Marsh said at one point during Tuesday’s appearance before the board, referring to past construction projects his company has managed.
Benchmark Construction, according to its website, is a turnkey contractor that has completed major projects such as courthouse and municipal complexes, jails, school buildings and churches. It coordinates all phases, including design, site work, construction of the shell and interior finish work.
Marsh plans to present his cost breakdown to supervisors at 10 a.m. Wednesday. Cummings has also asked Stewart to attend the meeting, which will be in the Webster County Schools’ boardroom in the Central Office Building (old high school).
The board then intends to schedule a meeting with the county’s insurance adjuster, Patrick Blankenship, who last met with supervisors on April 1. Cummings said he plans to ask state Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney to attend that meeting.
The board’s next regular meeting is at 8:30 a.m. Monday.
News Editor Russell Hood contributed to this report.