STEUBENVILLE — The third time was the charm for Jefferson County commissioners, who Thursday opened bids for the third floor courtroom renovations — and they fell within range of the engineer’s estimate.

As long as there are no mistakes in the bid documents, commissioners could finally be on the road to awarding the contract — and that, they say, is good news.

After the meeting, Commissioner Dave Maple pointed out it’s been difficult to get contractors to bid on projects, and when they do bid, their bids typically have been coming in well in excess of engineer’s estimates. By rule, bids have to fall within 10 percent of the engineer’s estimate or be rebid.

“You can see (the county engineer’s) bids all came in high,” Maple said. “The fire escape took forever because we couldn’t find contractors to bid on it, the same with the courtroom. I see it becoming a little bit of a trend — prices are going up on all our projects.”

The fire escape project took more than two years to get to the construction phase, in part because it involved removing and remediating lead paint from the interior of the aged structure. The courtroom renovations had to be rebid twice — they came in well above the engineer’s estimate the first go-around, and the second time contractors pulled out because they couldn’t line up craftsmen with the woodworking skills needed to complete the job.

Bids were opened for a third time Thursday. This time, three companies tendered proposals:

— Cattrell Cos. Inc. of Toronto, a $328,700 base bid;

— Waller Corp. of Washington, Pa., a $312,300 base bid; and

— Fort Steuben Maintenance, a $299,500 base bid.

The engineer’s estimate was $335,000, which included an estimate for design changes that had been requested if funding permitted.

Bids for that additional work, which would include a gypsum bulkhead, crown molding above the judge’s bench and two chandeliers, were Cattrell, $9,600; Waller, $16,800 and Fort Steuben Maintenance, $7,000.

Commissioners referred the bids to the engineer for a recommendation.

“After having to bid the courtroom three times, it was good to see three bidders,” Commissioner Tony Morelli said. “Assuming the bid documents are in order (we can move forward.)”

Commissioners, henceforth, were reminded crews will begin gearing up for the fire escape renovations on July 1.

“We’ll be shutting down the parking lot for the fire escape work,” said Patrick Boyles, the county’s maintenance supervisor. “Most of the parking lots will be shut down.”

He said, weather-permitting, the work should be done in September — adding that, if things stay on track, that could coincide with the timing of the courtroom renovations.

Boyles also told commissioners the parts he needs to restart the fountain in front of the Towers Building should be in by August.

“It hasn’t been operating for years,” Morelli said. “We’ve got new tenants coming in. We’re working on getting the parking lots paved, windows cleaned and bringing a little life back to the fountain, get it to where it was.”

Maple pointed out the Towers Building has a strong tenant and revenue base.

“It really generates enough to compensate for that and it adds to Steubenville’s downtown, which has always been a little bit of what we’re working on with the Towers Building. We originally wanted to quit paying rent (for county offices) and now we’ve got a nice mix of public-private tenants,” he added.

After receiving assurances that their money would be spent in Jefferson County, commissioners did sign off on using $50,000 of the county’s American Rescue Plan Act funding for a broadband expansion project feasibility study. The study will be conducted through the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission.

Morelli said the Jefferson County Broadband Task Force will be looking for a project management company.

“Part of their job requirements will be to look for Internet providers and look for grants to address getting broadband, high-speed broadband, throughout Jefferson County,” he said.

“Broadband in the county is moving forward,” Morelli said. “We are in the process of sending out RFPs so that we can hire a project manager to guide us through the next phase. Although the process is slower than I would like, we are moving in the right direction.”

Maple said it “feels like it is still moving too slowly.”

“There’s got to be a faster way to get people broadband,” he said. “I’m not saying it’s government’s job, it’s a private industry. But if they’re going to spend government money to get people broadband, just go do it.”

They also accepted correspondence from Bricker & Eckler, the county’s ARPA adviser, on petitions that had been submitted for funding consideration — Sycamore Youth Center, road slip repairs county Engineer Jim Branagan has recommended, repairs to the county service complex locker room and Toronto EMS — though they gave no hint on whether the firm believes any of the entities might actually qualify.

“Just looking through those requests briefly, we’re still running into the pattern of not-for-profits not showing lost revenue (due to COVID) or being in a qualified census tract area,” Maple said.

Auditor EJ Conn also told commissioners they’ve spent about two-thirds of the $25,000 they’d set aside for Bricker & Eckler’s retainer.

“I’m not surprised it’s that high,” Morelli noted. “I think we, as commissioners, need to agree on a project, then send it to them.”

Maple pointed out the firm’s research and explanations are “comprehensive.”

In other matters, commissioners:

— Accepted Branagan’s recommendation that they reject both bids submitted for the map room project. Cattrell Cos. had bid $91,300 for the contract, and Border Patrol of Hopedale, $70,548. Cattrell, however, came in well above the engineer’s estimate of $65,000, and Border Patrol made a mistake in its bid documents. Commissioners said the project will now have to be re-advertised.

— Also on Branagan’s recommendation, voted to schedule viewings and hearings to evaluate petitions for a road establishment in Island Creek Township on state Route 213 about 200 feet south of the Pleasant Hill Volunteer Fire Department north to the old elementary school, and another to vacate a road in Smithfield Township at the south end of Second Street.

— Agreed to seek bids for the Jefferson County Road 49 bridge replacement project, which will replace the existing 55-foot single-lane structure with a two-lane, steel beam structure on reinforced concrete abutments.

— Were advised the Jefferson County Agricultural Society will have to seek competitive bids for construction of a small animal barn if they want county funds to help pay for it. Commissioners had agreed to fund the project, critical to junior fair, but had asked the prosecutor for his opinion on whether it would have to be bid out. Ag society members had told commissioners they needed about $88,000 in addition to a $45,000 grant they’d secured.

Prosecutor Shawn Blake noted the project is well in excess of the $50,000 bid trigger and pointed out that counties are not permitted to “divide a larger purchase into smaller, lower-cost contracts to avoid the competitive bidding process.”

— For the second consecutive week, tabled a request to transfer money from the county court’s special projects fund to their contract services account pending more explanation.

While the special projects account has ample funds to draw on, commissioners noted the stated purpose — a rent increase plus bug treatments — only accounted for about half of the $4,600 requested.

“I’d ask to table it again, maybe have somebody come to the meeting and explain it,” Maple said. “This is their money, it’s coming out of their special projects fund. I don’t think it’s fair that (the auditor’s staff) is trying to explain it.”

Morelli said once the information is “received and reviewed, I am confident we will move forward with their request.”

— Opened three bids for the Ohio Public Works Commission-funded county Road 46 Resurfacing project: Cast and Baker, Canonsburg, $271,952.50; NLS Paving, St. Clairsville, $239,460.80; and Shelly & Sands, Rayland, $222,338. The engineer’s estimate was $199,748.

The bids were referred to the engineer for a recommendation.

— During this week, Water-Sewer Supervisor Mike Eroshevich said crews did their monthly meter reads; yard cleanups; repaired three leaks — two on Hammondsville Hill, state Route 213, the other a service leak on county Road 41; and performed plant and collection system maintenance, cut grass and daily lab testing. During the next week he said they’ll do work orders, schedule taps, clean-ups and cut grass.

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