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Courthouse renovation will cost nearly $1 million

Colfax County commissioners OK’d a bid for the exterior renovation of the historic county courthouse last week, but only after expressing some sticker shock at the price tag and disappointment at the lack of bidders.

The three-member board voted unanimously to accept a $962,564 bid from Bierman Contracting Inc. of Columbus for the project that is expected to get underway next April and be completed in the fall of 2018.

That decision came after Abby Hegemann of Omaha-based Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture presented her evaluation of the documents submitted by two bidders. The architect said both contractors were “well-qualified” to do the work.

Board Chairman Gil Wigington said he isn't worried about the quality of the contractors’ work, but the overall price tag for the project.

“The issue is the cost,” said Wigington while noting that the board had the option of throwing out both bids and rebidding the project.

“My goal was to make this place watertight, but if we threw out the bids they’d come back higher," he said.

Commissioner Jeff Bauman said tossing the bids would not have been fair to the two companies that submitted proposals.

“I say go with the low bidder and go on with the process," Bauman said.

Hegemann was also surprised by the lack of contractors interested in the renovation job.

“I was also disappointed about the number of bidders. I was hoping we’d get about four,” said the former Howells-area resident.

The architect’s initial estimate was that the project would cost about $820,000, but that figure was based on 2016 dollars. Earlier cost projections ranged from $380,000 to $1 million.

Originally, the project was planned in two phases — the first restoring the north and east facades on the courthouse and installing and repointing terra cotta this year followed by up to four months of work on the south and west facades from April to July in 2018.

Now, all four sides of the courthouse restoration work will done next year, beginning in the spring and extending about six months into the fall.

The board’s primary reason for the shift from a two-phase to one-phase project is that it will take about six months to produce the terra cotta this winter.

The renovation is needed because moisture has penetrated the nearly 100-year-old courthouse's exterior in spots, separating the bricks from the walls and cracking and wearing away the glaze on the clay-based terra cotta embellishments.

Doug Phillips, Schuyler Sun 

Kevin Contreras and Veronica Ardon pose for photos Friday night after they were crowned Schuyler Central High School homecoming king and queen.

Commissioners tell business to move junk or pay up

A Richland business better be quick to begin moving some rusting farm relics parked illegally along an asphalt road on the northwest edge of the village or be ready to open up the company pocketbook to pay up.

“This has gone on long enough,” Colfax County Commissioner Jeff Bauman said during last week's board meeting while citing four months of foot-dragging by Vollbracht Inc. since the business was ordered to move the obsolete farm equipment and other debris.

“The next step is to cite them for the violations,” Bauman said.

Colfax County Attorney Denise Kracl told board members Sheriff Paul Kruse has attempted to contact the business about the county’s intentions but has not issued citations yet.

The obsolete grain-drying equipment and other farm relics have been parked for years along the less than one-mile strip of pavement that was an old stretch of U.S. Highway 30 before its expansion to four lanes from Columbus to Schuyler.

Some of the equipment, which is on both sides of the road, was shifted off the pavement but remains within the county’s 64-foot right of way, measured 32 feet in each direction from the centerline.

With fall harvest fast approaching, Bauman said the illegal parking poses a continuing safety hazard for farmers crossing the road to gain access to fields and other motorists who use the road.

Vollbracht does not get to use the roadway or right of way as its private parking, he said.

“Let’s cost them money (for moving and storage) ... let’s follow through,” Commissioner Jerry Heard said.

In May, Kracl asked Kruse to begin issuing citations for violations of the state law that prohibits anyone from “depositing wood, stone or any other material on any part of any lawful public road in the state.”

Kracl said the business owner, who has a Wayne mailing address, was notified of the county’s actions.

Grand jury clears officers in Schuyler death

A grand jury has cleared law enforcement officers of any wrongdoing in the June 30 death of a Schuyler murder suspect.

After reviewing the evidence, the Colfax County grand jury deliberated for just a few minutes Friday before deciding no criminal charges would be filed in connection with the incident.

The jury found that 55-year-old Fidelgarin Valdez died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head inside an apartment unit at 715 E St. in Schuyler.

Law enforcement officers, including a Nebraska State Patrol SWAT team, were serving an arrest warrant for Valdez shortly before 6 p.m. June 30 when the shooting happened.

Valdez, who was originally from Cuba but lived and worked in Schuyler, was wanted in connection with a June 27 homicide at the Schuyler Inn.

Janner Ramon Torres Diaz, 33, suffered multiple gunshot wounds in that incident and was pronounced dead at CHI Health Schuyler.

Torres Diaz, who was also from Cuba but lived and worked in Schuyler, was found shortly before 2 a.m. June 27 on a second-story balcony at the local motel. Schuyler Police officers performed CPR before he was transported by ambulance to the local hospital.

The Schuyler Police Department, Colfax County Sheriff's Office and Nebraska State Patrol were part of the homicide investigation, and the State Patrol led the investigation into Valdez's death.

Ballistics testing on shell casings found at the scene of the incidents determined the same gun was used in both shootings.