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Sticker shock
Commissioners hit with higher-than-expected HVAC bids
hvac bid opening
Barton County Commission Chairman Shawn Hutchinson, center, opens the bids for the massive Courthouse HVAC replacement project in the County Clerk’s Office Wednesday morning. After the opening, commissioners discussed the bids that came in higher than anticipated. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune

Wednesday morning, Barton County commissioners returned to their chambers from the County Clerk’s Office following the bid opening for the massive HVAC replacement project in then century-old Courthouse. They were stunned when this yielded cost estimates of $1 million higher than expected.  

“Everybody seems a little shell shocked,” said commission Chairman Shawn Hutchinson, District 3. “I’m not exactly sure where we go from here?”

Bids were accepted through 11 a.m. Wednesday, and only two were received.

The first was from Kruse Corporation of Wichita for a base bid of $4,182,000. The second came from Glassman Corporation of Hays for $4,495,040.

Last October, commissioners met with project engineers Orazem & Scalora Engineering of Wichita. The firm presented a cost of about $2.5 for the new heating and air conditioning system, but commissioners asked about expanding the project to encompass a facelift, including new paint and carpet.

Their thinking was that since the Courthouse would be closed to the public for, they might as well do the remodeling as well.

Even so, OSE’s Gerit Garman told commissioners Wednesday his latest cost estimate of the revised endeavor came to $3.2 million.

“The good news is we have a great engineering team that can go back and digest this information now and let us know what the discrepancies are what the differences are for any irregularities,” Hutchinson said.

The commission charged Garman and company to contact the bidders and break down the proposals. The firm will return with this evaluation to an upcoming study session so commissioners compare them and, if needed, make cuts.

“We don’t want to screw this up,” Hutchinson said. “We want to be as informed as we can on it and I guess all we’re looking at here is numbers.”

“We want to take our time doing this,” District 1 Commissioner Duane Reif said.

Commissioners have talked about ventilation improvements to increase air quality based on COVID-19 guidance from the Centers for Disease and Control. Such changes qualify under American Rescue Plan Act federal COVID-19 recovery funds, and they have talked about tapping these funds to pay for the work.

Currently, the county has a balance of $2.8 million in its ARPA account.

The county had originally envisioned starting the project in June. It would take about a year to complete.

Now, Hutchinson said this timeline is in limbo. There is a chance they would have to rebid the work, and that would delay things.

In the  meantime

During the year-long replacement of the HVAC system, the Courthouse will be closed to the public. It will also be closed for county business, meaning offices have to be temporarily relocated.

“This is a huge undertaking,” said Operations Director Matt Patzner, referring to the moving and information technology challenges. The county is currently in negotiations for the use of two locations.

They have a letter of intent to use the former Sears Store on the west side of the 1700 block of 10th Street for the 20th Judicial District court operations and the County Attorney’s Office. They have not announced the other site.

The timing of the relocation depends on the starting of the Courthouse improvements.


This has been a topic of commissioners for a couple years.

The age of the current system (which is antiquated, failing and inadequate for current needs) has been a topic of discussion. The belief is that the chiller dates back to the around 2011 and the boiler to the 1960s or 1970s. 

There are also individual units in each room which are more problematic because it is difficult to find replacement parts and the pipes leak.

Compounding this is the fact the courthouse is over a 100 years old and made of stone.  

Under the plan, the old boiler and chiller would be replaced by a new heat pump system. Aside from the system’s new machinery and duct work in the ceiling, the building’s look and heating-cooling footprint would remain mostly unchanged. 

There will also be two fresh air circulating units on the roof.

In addition to the HVAC, the project includes new LED lighting and fixtures, a new ceiling, a new fire alarm system and a new two-way emergency communications system with access at each elevator door. An interior facelift, including new carpet and paint, is also on the list.