PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — The final cost of the new Health and Human Services Campus has come into clearer and slightly less expensive focus.

But yet, the Peoria County Board will still have to vote during a special meeting on Wednesday to appropriate an additional $7.8 million for the project which has a projected cost of $23.3 million, said County Administrator Scott Sorrel.

Much of that money, he said, is already accounted for including about $4.7 million set aside by the Peoria City/County Health Department. However, because the money hasn’t been officially put for that project, a vote is needed, Sorrel said.

Because this year’s budget is to be amended, any approval must have at least 12 or 2/3s of the 18-person board voting in the affirmative.

The project is drawing some critics who say it’s more than what the county needs and too expensive.

Brian Elsasser who lives in Princeville, said he’ll vote no as he believes the cost of the building is far too high and that the “planning has been poor.”

“We just need to build a building that is functional, efficient and works,” he said. “We are a government and not a private entity that is trying to attract people by how our building looks.”

Terry Ruhland, who was elected in November and who is the board’s liaison for the project, disagreed.

“This new building is well designed and part of an ongoing process to get Peoria County up to the standard that it should be,” he said.

What the county board is voting on

Board members are asked to approve about $7.8 million in funding. Of that, roughly $500,000 will come from the county’s capital project fund. About $2.6 million will come the federal COVID-19 money the county received under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the remaining $4.7 million is from the health department.

The county had already pledged about $14 million to the project in 2021 after the government appropriated just over $34.8 million in relief money to Peoria County.

The resolution being voted upon sets the maximum price for the building itself, which would be about $18.7 million as well as amending the budget.

If the board doesn’t amend the budget, then the project will have to go back to the drawing board, which Ruhland said could cost more money.

“That would delay the building about a year and likely raise the cost by 5%,” Ruhland said, noting health department workers have already vacated the (existing) building so the county is paying leases to house those offices. “There would be a tremendous amount of money lost if we don’t do this.”

The project

For years, the health department has been located at its present spot at 2116 N. Sheridan Road but the aging building is badly in need of repair, Sorrel said. Given that, the health department has been saving for more than five years for either renovations to its current building or for a new building altogether.

The coroner’s office, headed by Jamie Harwood, has been located in a cinder-block building located on East Gift Avenue. The building, which used to be the county’s old juvenile detention center, was retrofitted years ago to make the situation work but most have long agreed it was less than ideal.

In 2022, the board decided to build a new structure that could house the existing health department, coroner’s office, regional office of education, and sustainability and resource conservation department.

Beth Cider, the regional superintendent, says the idea made sense as those agencies tend to work closely with each other already.

The coroner’s office will have stations for police officers to view autopsies and an x-ray machine. That, Sorrel said, will eliminate the need to transport a person from the morgue to an area hospital if x-rays were needed.

There will be a dental clinic and medical exam rooms as well located within the health department’s portion of the building.

Sticker shock

After Peoria County received its ARPA money, it decided to use $14 million of that towards building a new building. That was never anticipated to be the final price but it was believed to be a bulk of the money, in addition to what the health department had saved.

“When we started to look at this project in great detail in late 2020 and early 2021, there was no way we could have accurately anticipated the effect inflation would have had on construction costs,” Sorrel said. “We didn’t budget enough because those inflationary impacts were not known.

“Construction project are costing more today than they did two years ago,” he said.

When the architect returned with a possible $28 million price tag, the county board got sticker stock and decided to “value engineer” the project which Sorrel and others say a hard look at what was needed, what wasn’t, and what could be redone.

“The original design was not a gold-plated government building,” he said, but rather designed with the idea of including all services and allowing for greater expansion.

But over the months, the board asked for lower costs, and the plan was tweaked. It went from two buildings to one. A basement or crawl space was eliminated. A Preschool For All site of the Regional Superintendent of Schools was eliminated. A “green” roof which would have made use of materials to ease stormwater runoff was dropped.

As much furniture as was possible will be reused, and the price got down to the fixed hard cost of $18.7 million for just the building. The rest are “soft costs” that involve turning the power back on, hooking up the water, and buying fixtures, faucets, computers, and other items.

It’s that high price that has Elsasser worried that too much is going into one project. He says other buildings like the county jail are in need of maintenance and repairs. He said the county should not “put all its eggs into one basket” when it comes to the ARPA funds.

Added bonus

Sorrel said the county would spend the ARPA money last, allowing it to accrue as much interest as possible. The interest, he said, is not governed by any federal rules on how to spend it and thus, could be used anywhere.

The county, he said, has opted to take the interest already earned, roughly $500,000, and put that back into the capital project fund, essentially zeroing out that cost. And he said by the time the $2.6 million is spent, it will have accrued more interest.

That, he said would go back into the capital project fund as well, helping to insure that other projects could be funded.