The Natrona County Commission hired MOA Architecture to design the new $31.6 million Casper-Natrona County Health Department building during a special meeting on Tuesday.

The commissioners unanimously chose MOA after members of a selection committee outlined their reasons, the project schedule, costs and other matters.

The City and County need a new public health building, which serves county residents and the poor, because it has outgrown its current location at 475 S. Spruce St.

After negotiations, the City and County governments developed a memorandum of understanding which authorized the transfer of about eight acres of City-owned land northeast of South Conwell and East Second streets from the city to the county.

The County will pay for the survey, legal matters and appraisal; and obtain the money and finish the construction within eight years or else the property will revert to the City.

The new health center, possibly about 35,000 square feet, would be nine blocks south of the Banner Health Wyoming Medical Center and near other clinics and health care providers. The deal also would align with the city's planning objectives.

It's been a long time coming.

A committee to guide the process and select the architect was formed in July 2020.

Lisa Hubbard was among the committee members that included two members of the Health Department's board of directors -- Board Chairwoman Christie Nelson and member Mike Cometto, Health Department Executive Director Anna Kinder, County Facilities Director Tom Popilek, Deputy County Attorney Jared Holbrook, and County Commissioner Peter Nicolaysen

Hubbard was a former owner of GSG who sold her share and now works as a consultant. After the meeting, she said she did work for the Wyoming Medical Center among other public projects.

Requests for proposal were issued and three firms responded: MOA Architecture with a fee of $2,220,000, GSG Architecture with a fee of $945,120, and Hein/Bond Architects with a fee of $1,110,000.

While MOA submitted the highest fee for its work, committee representatives said it also best met the scoring criteria that include project team qualifications, experience, project understanding, and community involvement.

MOA also has had extensive experience in designing health buildings, Hubbard said.

Besides the selection process, the committee outlined the schedule for the project.

The design phases would take 10.5 months ending in May 2024, contractor negotiations would take 3.5 months eniding in August 2024, construction taking 16 months ending in December 2025, two months of post construction and completion ending in February 2026, and the warranty period ending in February 2027.

Committee members said the County will hire a representative to provide support and guidance to all the participants in the project to ensure the County's interests are protected.

Likewise, a "building commissioning engineer" to oversee design and construction documents, prevent or eliminate problems, and verify heating, ventilation and air conditioning; and mechanical and electrical systems.

Finally, the committee representatives reviewed the probable costs and total project budget.

The basic costs are $20,125,000 for construction, site improvement costs and design contingency totaling $26,392,625.

Another $5,251,00 includes the design costs, HVAC costs, furnishings, and contingency for unforeseen conditions.

That brings the total to $31,643,625.

Natrona County Commission. Tom Morton, Townsquare Media
Natrona County Commission. Tom Morton, Townsquare Media

The commissioners acknowledged MOA's high fee, but its experience impressed them.

Commission Chairman Steve Freel asked Hubbard if it was typical for a design phase to take 10.5 months, and she responded it was because the more time spent up front will save money in the long run.

Then there was the matter of paying for it. (The City's contribution is the land.)

Natrona County was awarded one-time federal funding through the state's American Rescue Plan Act program. That reduces a tax burden on Natrona County residents.

Commissioner Dave North asked what he called the "elephant in the room" question. The County will commit $15 million to the project bolstered by the American Rescue Plan Act's commitment of $4.4 million, and other funds totaling $22.5 Million.

That leaves a $9 million gap, and North wondered how that would be filled.

Kinder responded that the committee is applying for grands and loans.

Nicolaysen complimented the work of Hubbard and the committee for taking the most thorough although not the least expensive route.

"The cheapest path could be the most expensive in the long run," he said.

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