Home Local News Lea eyes 6 months, maybe, for $30M judicial complex completion

Lea eyes 6 months, maybe, for $30M judicial complex completion

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LOVINGTON — Completion of the $30-35 million Lea County Judicial Complex may yet happen, hopefully in about six months.

That timing would be about four years after construction began and about two-and-a-half years after it was contracted to be completed.

It’s been eight months of legal wrangling since the county terminated its contract with Albuquerque-based HB Construction, the initial contractor for the project. At the suggestion of the firm RMKM of Albuquerque, the architect of record, the county declared in October 2019 the contractor had defaulted on the contract.

Responsible for providing space for district courts and related facilities and running out of space in the traditional courthouse, the county began saving funds for the judicial complex more than a decade before beginning construction without going into debt.

“We have executed an agreement between Lea County and the bond company, Federal Insurance Co.,” said County Manager Mike Gallagher. “When HB put in their proposal to construct the project, part of that was to execute a bond that was valued at the cost of the project, which is in excess of $30 million. The bond is there, in part, in case the contractor is unable to fulfill its obligations when it comes to constructing the building.”

The original contract called for payment of $30.28 million, of which about $28 million has been paid to HB Construction. The Takeover Agreement with Federal Insurance Co. calls for the remainder, about $2.25 million, to be escrowed for completion of the project.

Gallagher said meetings have been held last week and will be conducted this week with county officials, the architect, a construction management company and subcontractors to finalize plans, including the probable start of work early next month.

“In terms of timeline, they expect to have (subcontractors) out there the first week of July. Right now, we’re looking at about six months for the project to be completed,” Gallagher said. “There are some variables. There are some unknowns we’re trying to account for, including the way COVID restrictions affect us, such as state people who may have to do inspections of the building. There could be some delays there, but right now we’re looking at about six months for the building to be completed.”

More than 200 “non-conforming” items that Federal Insurance will pay for are listed as repairs in one attachment to the agreement.

“Some of these items reach a punch list, such as trim that needs caulking or an electrical socket that needs to be adjusted because it’s crooked,” Gallagher said. “But we have some more items of greater severity. The list of non-conforming items is broken into three categories, the most important of which is safety.”

Some of the more serious items including leveling floors and repairing concrete.

County Commission Chairwoman Rebecca Long remains burned over the process of getting the judicial complex built.

“This has been the most frustrating and disappointing project I’ve ever been involved in as a taxpayer of Lea County or as a commissioner. Nobody, whether you’re building a home for them or a $35 million project for them, should be subjected to this,” Long told the News-Sun. “The delays, the things that weren’t done properly, even working with the bonding company, it took forever in order to come to an agreement with the bonding company to move forward. I hope no other county is ever treated like we have been treated. That’s putting it mildly.”

Unwilling to make a firm commitment at this point, Long confirmed a hope that six months to completion would be correct.

“Am I hopeful this will wrap up in six months? I’m hopeful, but at the same time, I’m still doubtful. It’s hard to put trust in this process,” Long said through her frustration. “We have a contract and we were promised that we would be able to be in this building in August 2018. So, I hope this is the end of it. I get phone calls from Lea County taxpayers quite often and they are all unbelievably upset that Lea County, meaning them, the taxpayers of Lea County, have been treated like this.

“So, everyone is hoping, not just the county commission and county manager, but the taxpayers are like ‘enough already, finish this project and let us move on,’” Long continued. “It’s interesting, the old saying ‘measure twice and cut once.’ From now on, anybody else we hire for anything is going to be subjected to unbelievable scrutiny because, obviously, that’s the day and time we’re living in, and that makes me sad.”

In previous interviews, Long had said there currently are four district judges using three courtrooms in the traditional courthouse, a situation that should have been remedied by August 2018.

There are four courtrooms, with room for more to be constructed, in the five-story judicial complex.

Gallagher expressed optimism about the coming completion, “I feel positive about this.”

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