The Augusta Commission's update on the city's proposed new judicial center Tuesday included news that the price tag has grown to $80.1 million from $74.7 million a year ago because of higher concrete, steel and construction costs.
Judicial Center Committee Chairman Bill Kuhlke asked commissioners to set a budget for the 300,000-square-foot project and amend the project definition to reflect the budgeted amount.
Commissioner Andy Cheek said he supports the project planned for James Brown Boulevard and Walton Way but could not "legitimize 21 courtrooms when the courtrooms we have now are empty."
He warned his colleagues they were heading toward the edge of a cliff with a building the city cannot afford and made a motion to set a $55 million cap on the project.
His colleagues rejected the cap amid talk of "alternative financing" and "creative financing," including a possible certificates of participation issue to pay for the center, which Mr. Cheek called a way to circumvent voter approval.
He said the judicial center was the only project being built to a wish list without a cap.
Commissioner Don Grantham, who said the project will take a combination of financing options, proposed that city officials gather financing information and put a package together in the next two weeks and then, if necessary, ask the judicial committee to make adjustments.
Mr. Cheek described himself as the "lone voice crying in the wilderness.
"How jaded we have become as city officials to think we can't build a good facility for $55 million," he said.
Mr. Kuhlke said the committee could not proceed until it gets a budget for the project.
The committee is expected to return before the commission April 19.
In other action Tuesday, commissioners chose to make $352,000 worth of repairs to the Law Enforcement Center on Walton Way, build new jail pods at the Webster Detention Cen- ter on Phinizy Road to house inmates now housed at the Walton Way jail tower, and move court operations into the planned judicial center.
Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.