Doylestown Courthouse to Become a Reality
The 10-year study process culminated Thursday with bids to build the biggest, most expensive capital project Bucks County has ever seen.
Charley Martin didn't get his apology, but the Bucks County judges got their courtrooms and Thomas Bock got the contract to build them.
That was the result after a tumultuous two-hour, maximum-capacity meeting at the Bucks County courthouse in Doylestown Thursday.
In the end, Republican commissioners Martin and Jim Cawley voted to hire several contractors to build the courthouse, including the option to build three contested courtrooms on the proposed building's fifth floor. The contruction bids total $83,973,000.
Commissioner Diane Ellis-Marseglia voted against the project. She has argued for years, and repeated the assertion Thursday that the proposed building is too big and too expensive.
For Doylestown, of course, this means that the hole in the ground where the former county parking garage once stood on North Main Street now will become Bucks County's new justice center.
It may also mean work for some Doylestown contractors, who said they plan to bid on parts of the project, which will be overseen by the general contractor, Ernest Bock & Sons.
"We do a lot of work for Tom Bock," said Matt Nicastro, of Doylestown, who owns Nico Landscaping. "He’s a good guy and he’s honest. I think they should be awarded the contract."
A Change of Heart
The commissioners initially had planned to give the general construction bid to Hunter Roberts Construction Group, even though its bid amounted to about $608,000 more than Bock's.
In researching the bidders, county staff found lawsuits involving Bock projects and concerns over project delays. Last week, the commissioners delayed a decision, in part to give Thomas Bock time to respond to their concerns.
He did, presenting a thick binder with more than 125 letters of reference, explanations for the reported delays on other projects and promises that he would complete the Bucks County justice center on time and on budget.
He better, or Martin will have something to say about it.
"I know where you live," Martin said, to laughs from the audience. "I’m taking you on your word, sir," that the project will progress as planned. "But the moment it is not, trust me, you will be back here, or we will be at your door."
Bock, who lives in Newtown Township, assembled dozens of people to back him in a "full-court press" for the job. At least 10 subcontractors spoke Thursday on his behalf, and attorney Robert Gundlach presented their case.
"I'm elated," Bock said after the decision. "I'm ready to rock. I'm going to do you right, Doylestown."
Judges Conflict Unresolved
When they voted, the commissioners chose the bids for "alternate 2" which involved building three courtrooms on the proposed building's fifth floor. That will bring to 16 the number of courtrooms, while the county now has only 13 judges.
Martin had questioned the need to build the courtrooms now, but in the end was swayed because of the cost savings. The depressed economy brought in construction bids significantly lower - about $15 million lower, in total - than the commissioners had first been told to expect when project discussions started back in 2001.
The cost to build the three courtrooms now would total $2,673,000, according to bid figures.
"If you're going to do something, this is the best, cheapest time to do it," Martin said after the meeting.
That from a man who, just two days ago was blasted as "lacking vision and courage" by Bucks County Judge Alan Rubenstein.
Rubenstein, the media-savvy former district attorney, had been chosen by the 12 other judges to press the judges' case for the fifth-floor courtrooms in a press conference, which he held Tuesday. But he did much more than than in what listeners characterized as a "blistering" "intensely personal" attack on the commissioners.
Martin, who has been in favor of the courthouse, and Marseglia, who has consistently opposed it in its proposed form, both took fire from Rubenstein. Cawley escaped most criticism, presumably because he is leaving office here to become Pennsylvania's lieutenant governor.
All three commissioners on Thursday expressed displeasure with Rubenstein's remarks, and Marseglia and Martin pressed President Judge Susan Devlin Scott for a public apology.
"I have to ask, because it was said publicly - we all heard the tapes. Was Judge Rubenstein speaking for the majority of the court with his comments?" Martin said, looking directly at Scott, sitting in the front row.
"I’m going to give you a lawyer answer," she responded, her voice rising. "Look, a lot has gone on since that press conference. I made a resolution to myself and for the good of the court that we’re moving forward. I ain't saying another word about whatever occurred Tuesday."
Cawley sought clarification about the judges' position on the size and scope of the proposed courthouse.
"If a majority of the board of commissioners were to accept the bids for alternate two, would the judges, the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County, publicly support the project and say it meets the goals?" he asked.
"Yes, I can assure you, yes," Scott responded.
That appeased Martin enough to approve the project, but the rift between the commissioners and judges may be far from over.
"We can have reasonable disagreements over issues, but when personal things are said, I do take great exception to those, and I would have appreciated some distancing of those," Martin said. "We have made an honest effort to move forward and work with whoever was representing the courts, and I don’t think we’ve ever been on record anywhere saying negative things about the courts."
The bids approved Thursday include:
- Guy M. Cooper Inc., Willow Grove, for fire protection, $1,018,000
- Ernest Bock & Sons, Philadelphia, for general construction, $58,167,000
- Schindler Elevator Corp., Philadelphia, for elevator, $2,150,000
- The Farfield Company, Lititz, for electrical, $13,229,000
- Worth & Company Inc., Pipersville, for plumbing, $2,175,000
- Worth & Company Inc., Pipersville, for mechanical, $7,234,000