County considers four firms

Shenandoah County could soon select a firm to design a new sheriff’s office headquarters. But the cost of such a facility and when it would open remain uncertain.

A panel of county officials and supervisors recently completed interviews with four firms. The committee ranked the firms and plans to begin the process of negotiating a contract with the top company, according to information from Assistant County Administrator Evan Vass.

Vass would not release the names of the firms until the panel finalizes a contract.

Sheriff Timothy C. Carter said Tuesday he thinks the county could pick a design firm for the project within the next month.

Vass stated in a recent email, “Given that we are using competitive negotiation and are in the negotiation phase it would be disadvantageous to identify the four short-listed firms,”

The committee also visited facilities completed by each of the four architectural firms now under consideration. Panel members used county vehicles and spent a total of approximately $122 on gas and food for the visits.

“The site visits were intended to gauge the quality of the design and the satisfaction of the owner/end users of the facilities specifically with the architects during the design through construction administration,” Vass stated.

The sheriff noted that the panel wanted to see, in person, examples of the products built by the four firms.

“Thinking about the decision the county’s getting ready to make and you’re making a decision, a $6 million or so decision, I wanted to make sure we looked at actual buildings that the potential architect designed before we made that decision,” Carter said.

The site visits also allowed panel members to talk to employees who work in the facilities and to gauge their experience.

The review panel visited the Warren County Public Safety Building. The panel also visited Towson University’s Police Public Safety Building in Maryland, and facilities operated by Norfolk and Richmond police departments. All facilities but Richmond’s were new structures.

“I wanted to see how (Richmond) modified an existing structure to handle a contemporary law enforcement operation,” Carter said.

Nielsen Builders Inc. of Harrisonburg built the $10.55 million Warren County Public Safety Center. The 44,370-square-foot facility on about 12 acres, most of which is a hill, opened in late July 2012.

The Towson University Public Safety Building opened in July 2013. The architectural firm Grimm + Parker of Calverton, Maryland, built the 20,000-square-foot facility with a construction cost of $10.8 million.

“From my perspective, I wasn’t looking at, well, this one appears to be the size we’re going to build or want to build,” Carter said. “We weren’t really tied to, well, this is so many square feet; this one cost so much money.”

Carter has said he believes the county could build the complex with money his office receives through its involvement in federal law enforcement operations known as asset forfeiture funds. Carter has used $6 million as a “starting point” for the cost of a facility for Shenandoah County.

The Sheriff’s Office gave the county a 5-acre property in the 800 block of North Main Street in Woodstock in late 2014. The agency once used the property and its buildings for law enforcement operations. While floated as a potential site for a new sheriff’s office complex, county officials have not specifically identified the property for that use.

Carter said the panel intends to ask the firm to consider his agency’s size and its potential for growth as well as available sites.

“I think I can safely say we’re going to be looking in the center of the county,” Carter said. “We’re going to be looking around the Route 11 corridor and my hope is they would also take into account that particular site. … But a particular site has not been designated at this point.”

The county advertised in February a request for proposals for architectural and engineering services for a sheriff’s office complex and other potential matters. The county did not ask for an estimated cost to build the project. The county did appropriate $600,000 from the sheriff’s asset forfeiture fund to cover the cost to hire a firm to design the project.

The county received 14 proposals in mid March.

Shortly after the submission deadline, the Board of Supervisors Chairman David Ferguson set up a committee that includes himself and District 1 Supervisor John R. “Dick” Neese, Carter and John Thomas, a captain in the Sheriff’s Office and Duane Williams, facilities foreman in the Department of General Properties.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com