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County picks low bidder for old courthouse work
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Work is going to move forward on renovating the old Effingham Courthouse, but county commissioners were split on who should carry out the task.

Commissioners voted 4-2 to award the bid to J.T. Turner Construction and Hussey, Gay, Bell and DeYoung architects, approving their bid of $3.22 million.

The ad hoc committee had recommended the team of Lord, Aeck and Sargent architects and New South Construction. Jack Pyburn, a noted courthouse renovation expert, was part of the Lord, Aeck and Sargent/New South Construction team.

But their bid of $4.6 million was nearly $1.5 million more than the J.T. Turner/HGBD bid.

“The citizens I have talked to about the old courthouse are not really interested in doing a lot of work on the courthouse,” said Hubert Sapp, a member of the courthouse review committee.

Sapp, the former 1st District commissioner, said he told people the roof needed fixing.

“They said, ‘well, let’s take care of the roof and hold off on spending a lot of money on the courthouse until the economy pulls back up,’” he said. “I feel like we need to save every penny we can save at this point.”

Attorney Ramona Bartos, who has a master’s degree in historic preservation and served on the old courthouse committee, backed the bid of the Pyburn team.

“My understanding is that our charge was to select the best fit for the county,” she said, “to do the best job for the county and that cost was a secondary factor for our reasons. For many people, (the old courthouse) is the first image they have. It is extremely important the impression that building makes on citizens and on visitors.”

Pyburn’s firm was recommended because of the number of historic courthouses his group has worked on across the state.

“There’s not a mulligan,” Bartos said of the project. “There is not a do-over.”

Committee member Harvey Kieffer said Pyburn is “the guru of courthouse restoration.” Kieffer also said he was under the impression the old courthouse, more than 100 years old, was going to be restored, not just renovated.

The county received 115 inquiries on the project, getting responses from 25 design/build firms and cutting that list down to five finalists. Four of those finalists accepted the invitation to make in-person presentations to the committee and three were chosen for a final round of interviews.

“The committee felt all three were qualified. One through three could have done a good job,” Kobek said. “The committee worked diligently through the selection process. We thoroughly vetted all five teams.”

“The committee has done a great job and the committee has been very dedicated going through all the information,” Sapp said. “We had three architects and build teams and the three were very close.”

Sapp also noted that J.T. Turner Construction and Hussey, Gay, Bell and DeYoung are out of Savannah while the Pyburn group was from Atlanta. The Pyburn team’s architectural fees were 12 percent while HGBD submitted 9 percent in architectural fees.

“Mr. Pyburn is above and beyond everybody else we interviewed in this process,” said Commissioner and committee member Reggie Loper. “He’s got 26 people on his staff and that’s all they do is old buildings. He’s got a world of knowledge in his firm. This is a one-shot deal. He’s going to do a good job. I think it’s worth extra money. We want this thing done right.”

But the difference in the bids grabbed commissioners’ attention.

“Commissioner Loper, that’s a lot of money,” said Commissioner Verna Phillips.

“I assume all three firms are capable,” said commission Chairman Dusty Zeigler. “Otherwise, they wouldn’t be on this list. Can we justify the extra money in these economic times? How does that affect the average taxpayer, who probably won’t use it?”

Loper’s motion to approve the Lord, Aeck and Sargent/New South Construction bid died for lack of a second. Commissioner Bob Brantley’s motion to table the matter also failed to proceed.

J.T. Turner Construction and Hussey, Gay, Bell and DeYoung have redone 114 historic structures in downtown Savannah and have added a preservation architect to their ranks.

Currently, the old courthouse is home to the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Effingham office. Commissioners are still trying to figure out which offices would be moved into a redone historic courthouse.

Kobek also cautioned against tabling the bids and starting all over again. Commissioners split on a vote in November 2007 on work on the historic courthouse. Money for the project is part of the special local option sales tax.

“This is the second time the process has been completed,” he said. “We’ll have issues trying to get people to fight for it a third and fourth time.”