A delay in the delivery of two elevators is the main reason the Webster County Justice Center is not yet open, but according to the Webster County Commissioners, things are looking up (and down, and back up?) with their late-October delivery.
Commission President Paul Ipock conceded that the elevators were not ordered in a timely manner by the project’s construction management company. There are only three elevator companies in the United States, Ipock said, and they are overwhelmed with work, and one of them, Thyssen-Krupp, took its time in completing the county's order.
Commissioner Randy Fraker noted that once the elevators are installed, there is a lot of finishing work to do inside the building. There are two elevators that go to three floors each, which means that six different areas require completion.
In a story I wrote for the Feb. 13, 2019, edition, the headline bragged, "Justice center nearing completion." Sheriff Roye Cole was excited about a big grand opening, complete with tours, planned to coincide with July 4 festivities, and a sleepover was planned to raise money for the DARE program. "It will allow us to practice our policy and procedures and try to find some last-minute mistakes," the sheriff said.
The commissioners' reluctance to offer a completion date 11 months after that front-page story is understandable — yet there is still news to celebrate. According to the commissioners, the project remains on budget.
"Really, sometimes you have to be hard on the companies to be under budget," Ipock noted.
He added that all of the contractors signed an agreement to pay $1,000 per day if the project was not completed on time, but with the elevator situation, everyone was held harmless.
"We hope that things are going to really take off and happen in the next two weeks," Ipock said.
Fraker referred to the remaining work as "tedious finish work," like the completion of "miles and miles of wiring" and surface treatments — "It's the structural stuff that goes along with the elevators," he said.
Fraker added that it is important to do the job properly. "It's a nice place, and we’re right here at the end. There's no point in cutting corners," he said.
Ipock added that weather delays have also been a factor, including rain and extreme heat and cold.
When asked if he felt frustrated by the delays, Ipock gave this reporter a good, long stare, then banged his gavel with a laugh. "I want to make this a very positive type of interview," he said.
And being a positive kind of guy, Ipock turned the conversation to some good news.
"We signed a contract with Greene County that they would ship us 50 prisoners a day as soon as we can get it open," he said.
The state cost for housing prisoners is $45 per prisoner, per day — and this is money that the county did not factor into the revenue side of its budget, so it is all extra anticipated revenue.
Some of that revenue is in doubt, since the State of Missouri owes millions to its jails. On Sept. 30, the state owed Webster County $110,899 for incarceration expenses, and it owed Greene County over $3 million. Commissioners aren’t sure if they’ll ever see that money.
The revenue is something to look forward to as construction comes to an end. Commissioner Randy Owens expressed that the project had been a long a difficult one. "To say this project is trying would be an understatement," he said. But for an $18 million project to come in under budget? "That's something nobody in the county has ever tried," Owens said.
Ipock noted that the finished project will be a source of pride, and one that residents will be able to feel secure in and around.
"We are trying to provide them with a beautiful facility that will last the county for many years to come," he said.
Ipock noted that his associate commissioners joined him in the County Commissioners' office three years ago, while Ipock himself had been there since the 1990s. "They didn't have any idea what they were getting into," Ipock said.
Two weeks after Owens and Fraker arrived, they were faced with bids for the jail that came in $5 million over budget, requiring the project to be scaled back.
"They have been a lot of help to me, and I appreciate it," Ipock said. "All three of us have got Webster County's best interests at heart."