Construction of Griggs County Courthouse halted over payment dispute
Construction halted Friday on the nearly completed Griggs County Courthouse and Emergency Operations Center in Cooperstown, N.D., in a dispute over contractor payments. Construction Engineers, the Grand Forks general contractor for the $3.5 milli...
Construction halted Friday on the nearly completed Griggs County Courthouse and Emergency Operations Center in Cooperstown, N.D., in a dispute over contractor payments.
Construction Engineers, the Grand Forks general contractor for the $3.5 million project, and its subcontractors walked off the job Friday morning, according to John Eickhof, company president.
“We’ve given them notice that we’re not going to be on the job anymore, until they figure out the payment,” he told the Herald Friday. “Contracturally, our company and the subcontractors can’t be there.”
Al Olson, owner of Agassiz Mechanical, a Fargo plumbing, heating and cooling contractor, began hauling equipment from Cooperstown back to Fargo by noon Friday.
“Nobody’s getting paid,” he said.
He estimates the project is 90- to 95-percent completed.
Olson said his company has been paid about $130,000 so far, but has not received any payments since 2013. He said he has pay requests totaling about $90,000 that remain unpaid.
The dispute involves the $1.25 million Emergency Operations Center portion of the project.
The EOC, which is connected to the new courthouse, is being financed through a $1 million federal grant, administered through the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services.
“Unless the grant comes through, the project is on hold,” County Commissioner John Wakefield said.
The county is required to contribute - and has paid - its 25 percent local match, according to Wakefield.
The Griggs County project is unusual in that it involves two separate projects rolled into one contract, with each controlled by a different group. That’s the result of a recall election in October in which all five county commissioners were defeated.
The recall was prompted by the then-County Commission’s decision early last year to proceed with building a new courthouse and adjacent EOC, despite voters’ rejection of three separate bond issues to finance different versions of the project.
The commissioners then formed a private, nonprofit organization to issue bonds to pay for it and to oversee the project.
Normally, that poses no problems because the County Commission and the Building Authority usually are composed of the same people. But the recall changed that.
Legally, the federal grant has to be paid to a public entity, not a private, nonprofit organization. As a result, requests for grant payments are required to show that the money is going for the EOC, which is the public portion of the project, and not the courthouse.
Eickhof said the Building Authority is ahead of schedule on payments for the $2.2 million courthouse portion of the project, which is financed by a 20-year bond.
However, the county still is waiting to receive the EOC grant funds.
Any day now?
According to Wakefield, Sheriff Robert Hook, who is serving as building project manager for the Building Authority, told the commission Friday that five of eight issues to bring the grant into compliance had been resolved, and that final approval could come any day.
Eickhof said he wants to get back on the job.
“We’re just waiting for those grant funds to be put in place,” Eickhof said. “We’re hopeful that will happen soon. If the EOC grant gets approved and the money gets distributed, we’ll be out there the day after.”
This is not the first time a work stoppage has been threatened on the project.
Construction Engineers also threatened to walk off the job in February over payments.
However, after a contentious meeting with the County Commission and members of the Building Authority, the company agreed to continue as long as the parties were working together to resolve the issues.