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Two Franklin County courthouse plans to get reviewed

July 09, 2010|By JENNIFER FITCH

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- An architect and engineer will review not only the leading proposal to construct a courthouse on North Second Street, but also one to build it off Memorial Square, the Franklin County (Pa.) Commissioners said Thursday.

The commissioners hosted three hours of discussion about the judicial center project during their meeting Thursday morning. Chairman David Keller said at the conclusion that the "working assumption" is the architect and engineer expected to be hired later this month will be looking at both sites.

In early June, the commissioners were readying to vote on building a 134,000-square-foot courthouse on North Second Street where the Jennings car dealership is now. Public support, however, has seemingly favored building a five-story courthouse at the Lighten Up Chambersburg property on North Main Street.

The commissioners delayed their decision pending review of the North Main Street plan and traffic impact negotiations with the Borough of Chambersburg.

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Cost estimates for the two projects vary, but Steven Ohm from Carter Goble Lee, a consultant hired by the county, said he did an "apples to apples" comparison. He said the North Second Street plan would cost $45.8 million, compared to $58.7 million for the North Main Street proposal from developer Bernard Washabaugh II.

Washabaugh previously told The Herald-Mail his project's price tag was $49 million.

On top of both of Ohm's estimates would be several million dollars more to renovate current court facilities in an attempt to consolidate administration and human services there.

Washabaugh shared frustration that Ohm did his review from a newspaper description of the alternate proposal.

"It wouldn't take much to have had that dialogue," Washabaugh said, saying he could've answered questions about his plan.

Washabaugh, president of Second State Enterprises Inc., said he in turn reviewed the North Second Street proposal put forward by Carter Goble Lee. He claimed that plan would violate the borough's zoning ordinance by not providing enough parking.

"You are 300 parking spaces short, conservatively," said Washabaugh, whose proposal includes a parking garage.

Washabaugh's father said the commissioners aren't giving the public a chance to share comments, especially because their meetings are on weekday mornings.

"It's hard for me to believe you're not hell-bent on building at Jennings," the elder Washabaugh said, saying the commissioners should allow citizens to look at several options. "We're not getting a fair shake; that's my opinion."

Downtown property owner Barbara Lahr said she worries about six acres being taken from tax rolls if the county developed Jennings.

Ohm, who said he did analysis objectively, said the Jennings property better allows for future expansion on site. The North Main Street option would require adding upward, which would necessitate pricey extra steel and supports now.

He also said the North Second Street construction wouldn't disrupt court functions as much as the other plan.

Joel Desotelle, a parent concerned about the Jennings option's impact on Corpus Christi School, said hospitals, schools and homes all have temporary disruptions during renovation.

"Everybody does it," he said. "It's a silly argument."

Keller asked about off-site improvements for traffic flow, and Ohm said he's estimated $600,000 for either plan.

"I believe they'll be equal," he said, speculating a couple traffic lights and turn lanes would be required for each.

Commissioner Robert Ziobrowski said he was having difficulty wrapping his mind around those assertions.

Downtown Chambersburg Inc. President Paul Cullinane asked the commissioners to consider soliciting proposals from a few different firms.

"Set CGL's (Carter Goble Lee's) analysis aside, and let's get a clean effort," he said.

"This county has never, ever ... hired a firm to say, 'Here's what we want,'" Commissioner Bob Thomas said in response to an assertion earlier in the meeting that Carter Goble Lee told the board what it wanted to hear.

There was no wrongdoing, Thomas said.

"I will not stand for that," he said.

The commissioners say they need a modern courthouse to address overcrowding and safety concerns.

"We basically have utilized every available square foot in that building," Keller said of the current facility on U.S. 30.

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