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Hands of time move forward

Supervisors approve $6.16 million clock tower project bid

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
The new mechanism and clock faces inside the clock tower at the Webster County Courthouse quietly keep accurate time. The Webster County Supervisors approved a bid Tuesday to make repairs to the exterior of the structure.

Webster County Supervisors unanimously approved a previously tabled bid on Tuesday for the county courthouse’s clock tower and roof restoration project.

The winning bid from Neumann Brothers Inc., of Des Moines, came in as the only bid last week for $6.19 million, over $1 million more than previous consulting engineer estimates. Supervisors approved the bid Tuesday without a roll call vote, exercising the optional copper gutter deduction, which will reduce the base bid by $30,000.

Supervisors also approved a bond purchase agreement, which details funding not to exceed $6 million. The remainder of funding for the last $160,000 of the top-priority project is unclear. Final approval of the general obligation loan agreement is set for supervisor consideration on Feb. 4.

Older estimates on the project, in an extensive report completed January 2019, pegged the project’s cost between $3 and $4 million.

Despite some disagreement on the best course forward in a Thursday workshop, supervisors had no dissenting discussion during Tuesday’s meeting before a vote that yielded no nays.

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
The green corrosion seen on the outside of the Webster County Courthouse’s clock tower is also visible on the interior. Some of the spots in the old copper sheeting actually have small pinholes in them.

Supervisor Nick Carlson, structural engineer Craig German and OPN Architects associate Scott Allen all agreed last week that the best course forward to was to accept the unexpectedly high bid. Supervisor Bob Thode dissented, recommending it be let out for another round of bidding, which could result in lower or higher prices.

“I’m not willing to take that risk,” responded Supervisor Keith Dencklau.

“We would’ve hoped to have had more bids come in,” said OPN Architects associate Scott Allen in the workshop. “This is quite unique work with the dome.”

The project was so unique that it may have had a daunting effect on contractors. Craig German, a structural engineer for Shuck-Britson of Des Moines, said that many contractors had no frame of reference for how to go about this project. Many found they did not have enough time to wrap their heads around how “enormous” the project would be, or to articulate their plans in time to submit a bid.

Timing of the construction, conception of which has been under way for well over a year, was originally scheduled to conclude by the end of 2020.

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
The green corrosion seen on the outside of the Webster County Courthouse’s clock tower is also visible on the interior of the building where leaks have left their mark over the course of decades.

A key part of the restoration would include installation of a plastic membrane to act as a water barrier between the copper and wood, leaving most levels of the tower dry. The top level of the tower is open to the air, so that the bell can ring. The water barrier will be designed so that water can flow back outside, preventing rotting of the wooden structure underneath.

The new plans for the roof would replace the fiberglass with glass, significantly increasing the amount of light that comes in and removing the yellow tint from more than 100 years of UV exposure that currently comes from the roof. The new glass would have a longer life span with a better ability to resist impact from ice during the winter.

The project’s blueprints include a partial replacement of the clock tower that will keep the intact pieces of the old green patina sheathing and restore the roof’s skylight. The change may result in a browner clock tower over all, a departure from the green color earned over a century. The sheathing’s extensive weathering over 118 years contributed to the need for action.

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