By Travis Gulbrandson
Air conditioning has been a recurring problem at the Clay County Courthouse and the Public Safety Center for a number of years.
Police Chief Matt Betzen and County Sheriff Andy Howe planned a phase process to either replace or fix the air conditioning systems, but when they received their bids, those plans came to a halt.
The estimates submitted by Trane Turnkey Proposal were much higher than either had anticipated – $62,000 for the courthouse and $113,000 for the public safety center.
“This is not at all where Matt and I were looking to go,” Howe said during the Vermillion City Council’s special meeting Monday afternoon.
“I just think there are cheaper alternatives,” Betzen added. “I repeatedly said my goal in five to seven years is to be looking at a new building. It does not make sense to spend $113,000 … or even half of that on a building that we’re going to leave in five to seven years – even 10 years.”
Betzen and Howe originally planned to bring a Trane representative to meet with the council on Monday to discuss costs.
“Based on the estimate that I got on Friday, we’re not going forward with what they want to do,” Betzen said.
Howe said numbers can be explained in part because “there’s a bit of a wish list involved in there.”
When he was showing the Trane reps the building, they made note of all of the rooms without air conditioning, including the basement.
However, Betzen said even without those add-ons, “it’s $89,000 to do the sheriff’s office, dispatch center and my office area.”
“It’s an unaccountably high bid,” he said.
Betzen said they asked for estimates from Trane because of the county commission.
“Evidently they have some type of standing contract that allows them to circumvent the bid process – at least that’s what they’re saying – in that they kind of have a state bid nationwide for this type of work,” he said.
Howe said the deputy states attorney has questions about the legality of “this pre-bid deal that we were pitched.”
Last year Betzen and Howe asked the city for $9,000 of second-penny funding because the system kept breaking down.
This year, it has not broken down once.
“My system is still working, the sheriff’s system is still working, (but) they are at the end of their lives,” Betzen said. “We do have some money. We’re going to start working on either a preventative maintenance plan or looking at what we can do for the future, and we may come back with something else.”
He added that a cheaper option might be for both entities to work toward a solution on their own, and that he thinks it will end up in a competitive bidding situation.
Howe said that both entities currently are looking at replacing their outside compressors.
“Now I understand (the system is) not the same as it used to be, where you just pump Freon back and forth between your compressor and your air handler,” he said.
While the system appears to be working fine now, it has become unreliable when the temperature starts to change, such as in spring and fall, Howe said.
“When we have a cold evening and a hot day, the system switches itself over to a winter situation,” he said. “It’s a water system. … It’s trying to protect that, so it’ll turn the air conditioning off when the temperature gets to, say, 40 degrees. And then in the morning we have to reset it, turn the air back on every day. You don’t notice it until about 10 a.m. when you start to notice how stuffy it is. We’re always constantly resetting the system, and we don’t want that.”