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Courthouse Construction Controversy

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County Officials Hear Complaints About Look Of Sally Port

By Joe Foreman, Editor

Good, bad or ugly, the sally port under construction on the southeast corner of the Mills County Courthouse has certainly caught the attention of Mills County residents and elected officials.

“We’ve been hearing all the comments,” Mills County Auditor Carol Robertson said.

Richard Crouch, a member of the county board of supervisors, said he’s heard from unhappy taxpayers who don’t like the appearance of the metal-sided, garage-style structure. The gray horizontal siding on the sally port is a contrast to the earth tone appearance of the 55-year-old courthouse and the new wing being added on the east end.

Lonnie Mayberry, also a member of the county board, said he “wasn’t shocked” by the appearance, but it’s not what he expected.

“It’s steel siding, so it’s a good siding, but it does look like a separate building,” Mayberry said. “I guess I would have liked to see more of a concrete siding to match what’s there. That would have made more sense to me, anyway.”

Located on the southeast corner of the expanded courthouse, the sally port will serve as a secure entryway utilized by law enforcement officers when transporting jail inmates to and from judicial proceedings.

Pete Franks, architect for the courthouse renovation and expansion project, said plans for the sally port have always included metal siding.

“It was never anything but metal siding at any point through the entire project,” Franks said. “It looks exactly as we expected it to look. It’s unfortunate the expectations were not across the board very clear, apparently. I don’t have any problems with how it looks.

“As for the sally port itself, we feel like it was an element in the design that was sort of being inserted between the two-story parts of the project. It was never intended to try to blend because it is its own one-story element that’s very different, both in terms of function and how it kind of meshes into the whole project.”

    Robertson said the appearance of the sally port just isn’t what she and other county officials were expecting.
“I’m not 100 percent sure what our expectations were.” Robertson said. “We knew it was going to be a sally port, but there were things we thought were going to be there like a retaining wall and some other stuff.

“According to Pete Franks, he claims we approved the colors. Now, if we approved them, if they were written on the plans, we didn’t read the plans, which is not something we’d normally do.”

Franks said the design for the sally port was discussed three months ago at a construction meeting that included county representatives.

“The metal and the color was something that was talked about on-site, looking at a full-size mockup of the wall panels,” Franks said. “If there was going to be any major concern about the siding, that would have probably been the point where I would have expected this concern to be raised.”

Robertson said the county had to make multiple requests to get an architectural rendering from Franks.

“That was something we kept saying, ‘We need an idea of what this is going to look like. The public needs to see and we need to see what you’ve got,’” Robertson said. “After several askings, we finally got it after construction had already started.”

A rendering provided to The Opinion-Tribune in May by Franks does show the color of the sally port siding being darker than the rest of the courthouse. It shows the siding having a horizontal look, but also a square pattern similar to the design on the exterior of the courthouse. The siding actually placed on the sally port doesn’t have the square pattern depicted in the rendering. Franks said some slight changes were made to the design at the request of the roofing and siding contractor.

“They had some concerns of how things were detailed. We worked with them to simplify and work a little more compatibly with the manufacturer they were going to be using,” he said. “The appearance has changed some, just to get a better and more durable end product.”

The rendering also shows the garage doors on the sally port matching the color of the siding. As of now, the doors are white. Robertson said having white doors was a cost-cutting measure initiated by Franks.

“Apparently, Mr. Franks was trying to save the county a little money,” Robertson said. “We’ve had several little items within this project where he was trying to cut corners to save costs, but we weren’t necessarily aware of that kind of thing.”

Robertson said there’s been no talk of changing the sally port siding at this point of the construction process.

“They have changed a couple of things, but I don’t know that we can change a lot of it at this point,” Robertson said.

“Maybe when it’s all done, it won’t look as bad as we think it’s going to look.”

Mayberry, who wasn’t on the county board at the time the courthouse expansion project was approved, said he’s hopeful the appearance of the sally port will be enhanced with landscaping.

Current projections call for construction work at the courthouse to be completed by Oct. 1.