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Kevin Bonham, Forum News Service, Published February 25 2014

Work to continue on Griggs County Courthouse despite funding dispute

COOPERSTOWN, N.D. – Work apparently will continue next week on a $3.5 million Griggs County Courthouse and Emergency Operations Center project, despite a threat by the general contractor to quit over a dispute with the County Commission involving pay issues and contract language.

Company crews will be “on the job,” Construction Engineers President John Eickhof said after a meeting Tuesday with the Griggs County Commission, the Griggs County Building Authority and project architects.

That’s a reversal from a day earlier, when the company sent a letter to the County Commission and Building Authority that stated, in part: “Consider this letter our seven day notice that work will be suspended on your project unless we are assured that funding is in place for the remaining balance of our contract.”

The County Commission refused Tuesday to provide such a guarantee.

“We have a signed contract,” Commission Chairman Troy Olson said.

That letter followed one received Friday from the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services that rejected a reimbursement request from the County Commission for about $200,000 for work done on the Emergency Operations Center portion of the project.

The county was awarded a federal grant for about $1 million, plus a 25 percent local match, for the EOC project.

The Energy Services Department, which is administering the grant, requires additional documentation that the federal funds are being spent only on the EOC and that money is not comingled with funds to build the courthouse.

The county and the contractor also disagreed on what should be included in documentation of wages.

The county, the contractor and Kraft Architects, a Shakopee, Minn., firm, agreed Tuesday to work to resolve differences and submit the proper documentation as quickly as possible.

“The grant is in place until they tell us it isn’t,” Commissioner John Wakefield said.

Unusual project

The Griggs County project is unusual in that it involves separate projects rolled into one contract, with each controlled by a different group. That’s the result of a recall election in October in which all five county commissioners were defeated.

The recall was prompted by the then-County Commission’s decision early last year to proceed with building a new courthouse and adjacent EOC, despite voters’ rejection of three separate bond issues to finance different versions of the project.

The commissioners then formed a private, nonprofit organization to issue bonds to pay for it and to oversee the project.

Normally, that poses no problems because the County Commission and the Building Authority usually are composed of the same people. But the recall changed that.

The two groups communicated little in the first few months after the recall. However, they have held a few joint meetings recently to iron out issues.

“This is a paperwork error, not a change in the funding,” Wakefield said. “This should have been done as two separate projects, done concurrently.”

“We realize that now, too,” said Ron Halvorson, the former County Commission chairman who now chairs the Building Authority.

While his company has worked on similar projects all over North Dakota, Eickhof said he’s never seen anything quite like the Griggs County situation.

“There’s two owners, and they have some coordination issues to work on,” he said.