Cost of Johnson County building renovations increase 85 percent from original estimate

The renovations covering the administration and health and human services buildings have increased from the original $15 million estimate to $27.9 million.


The Johnson County Administration Building is seen Monday, Jan. 30, 2023.

Alejandro Rojas, News Reporter

The cost of the planned renovations to the Johnson County administration and health and human services buildings increased 85 percent from its initial estimate.

The project was originally slated to cost around $15 million but will now cost roughly $27.9 million. The renovations started in 2019 after the county hired OPN Architects to design the  project’s plans.

Ray Forsythe, Johnson County special projects manager, said the increase is reflective of the difficulties of doing construction projects post-COVID-19.

“We’re in unprecedented times throughout the world, really, on disruptions from transportation, the shortage of materials, the labor shortage all increased projects anywhere from 15 to 20 percent,” he said.

Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan said another reason for the increase has been wanting to add additional measures to the project. 

“You just start asking people, ‘What would you like?’ and the laundry list becomes quite large, and I think what the board has recognized is that it kind of got out of control,” Sullivan said. “We have to get back to what really needs to be done, and rein it in that way.”

To fund the project, the county budgeted several million from its general fund for the next few fiscal years, as well as American Rescue Act Money (ARPA). ARPA is a financial relief package from the federal government aimed at helping communities recover from the pandemic.

The county budgeted the following amounts for the upcoming fiscal years:

  • $6.2 million for fiscal 2023
  • $6.9 million for fiscal 2024
  • $7.2 million for fiscal 2025
  • $7.0 million for fiscal 2026
  • $396,676 for fiscal 2027

Johnson County received roughly $29.3 million from ARPA. Of that, Forsythe said around $8-10 million would be eligible to use for the project. The county initially budgeted roughly $3.4 million from ARPA for the project.

In recent weeks, the possibility of raising taxes has also been discussed. But Sullivan clarified that the increase would not be for the project.

“It does look like there’ll be a tiny increase in taxes this year, but not a lot. And I think part of the issue is that we did not want to raise taxes just to do this,” he said. “We already had some money set aside from both ARPA and savings that we’re going to put toward this project.”

Johnson County Supervisor Jon Green added that the money raised from taxes could only be used for specific things.

“Because of the way we [as a county] tax properties in municipalities different than in rural areas, we can only use the money that we raise in rural areas in a limited number of cases. That money has to be spent on services that only benefit rural residents,” Green said.

The renovations aim to address different security and safety concerns of the county buildings, including the lack of sprinkler and fire suppression systems in the administration building, Forsythe said. 

Other changes include an updated heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system to help filter out diseases like COVID-19, and installing permanent glass barriers to protect county employees and the public, also to prevent the transmission of COVID-19.

One other component of the project, Forsythe said, was planned changes to the buildings and surrounding area.

“We also added some additional scope to make it more of a campus, where we were looking at landscape features, signage, and more of a connection between the administration, health and human services, and ambulance and medical examiner buildings,” Forsythe said.

Green said it was important for the county to focus on what it needs for the renovations first. 

“We just have so many needs county-wide, I don’t know that it’s going to be appropriate for us to try and do the whole shebang right now. I hope in the coming year, we county elected [officials can] all take some time to sit down and look at our needs countywide,” Green said.

The renovations will be tackled in phases to ensure funding availability for the next one. The county reduced the scope of the project by removing some planned items, and will focus on what it can.

Among these removals was the planned renovation of the Ambulance and Medical Examiner building and the renovation of 821 S. Clinton St., a property planned as a multistory building that would include a daycare center and affordable housing. 

Even with the changes to the project, along with the increased budget, Sullivan said the cost wouldn’t affect other county plans or projects.

“The project shouldn’t affect anything really in that regard. The courthouse is already scheduled to be finished next year, or maybe a year and a half, and so I don’t think that’ll interfere with that in any way,” he said.

Considering everything, Sullivan said the supervisors are still pleased with moving the project forward.

“I think we’re comfortable with where we’re headed. There’s a little bit of frustration that we didn’t catch the finance problems earlier. But the bottom line is, it did get caught, and we know where we stand and we are acting accordingly,” he said.