Nome courthouse to move into the old hospital building
The Alaska Court System has awarded a contract to Drake Construction to house the courthouse in Nome at the former Norton Sound hospital on the corner of Bering Street and 5th Avenue.
The building belongs to Rolland Trowbridge and according to Trowbridge, Toby Drake and he will form a LLC entity to hold the 20-year Alaska Court System lease for the court.
According to a memorandum from the Alaska Court System, the existing lease with Front Properties is set to expire on February 28, 2020 and the court system deemed the rental rate renewal options from the current landlord to be prohibitively expensive.
Alaska Court System Facilities Manager Lesa Hall explained in an email that the original lease term with Front Properties, the owner of the current building housing the court, was three years from 2012 to 2015. “The court issued an ITB for new lease (which would commence in 2015), and awarded it to Front Properties on 10/23/13. However, on 2/27/14, Front Properties declined to sign the contract due to their lack of funding (I believe the funding was necessary to bring the building up to current codes, standards and amenities), so, because there was no time to re-issue an ITB, award it, and build out a new space by the end of the existing lease term, the court found it necessary to negotiate a 5-year contract extension with Front Properties at additional lease cost, to start at the end of the current lease term on 3/1/15. This contract extension ends 2/28/20,” she wrote.
Also, the court system wanted to modernize the court facilities. This included a public lobby with access to one Superior Court courtroom, a District Court courtroom, secure prisoner entrance and holding cells, a grand jury room, court staff offices and sound lock features in the rooms. The court system requested a usable square footage at a minimum of 5,880 net usable square feet.
Two attempts to procure requests for proposals and invitations to bid ended in rejections. The memorandum states that in February, the request for proposal was advertised in the Anchorage Daily News, the Fairbanks News Miner and the Nome Nugget. However, the request for proposal was not advertised in the Nome Nugget as the court’s request was sent to a defunct email address and not received by the Nugget.
The news that a move of the courthouse to another location was contemplated had not been common knowledge.
There were three firms that submitted proposals: Zelener Group, owner of Front Properties LLC, which is the owner of the old federal building that currently houses the court on Front Street, Drake Construction and Blue Glacier. The court system rejected the proposals saying that Blue Glacier did not identify a specific property; that Drake Construction’s financing had not been finalized and that Front Properties’ proposals exceeded the court system’s budget for the amount of square footage available and it did not meet lease space requirements. The second round offered an invitation to bid which was only advertised on the Alaska State online public notices website. The same three entities handed in bids. According to the court system’s rejection letter dated July 10, two bids were non-responsive and one bid did not include clear documentation showing the bidders entitlement to offer property to the court system. Facilities Manager Lesa Hall explained that a bid is considered non-responsive or deficient when the proposed facility identified in the bid does not come close to meeting those minimum requirements, and when there is no indication that the bidder intends to address those requirements at the proposed bid price.
The Nome Nugget reached out to Front Properties for comment, but the request remained unanswered by press time on Tuesday.
On July 12, Hall sent a detailed memo to the administrative director requesting that competitive bidding procedures be waived and that a single source procurement be permitted to negotiate a 20-year lease with Drake Construction. Hall said in an email to the Nugget that the cost is $34,782.16 per month at the Front Street location. “The new location will be $35,000/month for the Base Bid areas. Note that that $217.84/month more provides much more space and much better security – including a separated holding entry and holding cell, a decent sized jury room, and two full size courtrooms. Note that the cost for the current Front Street location will increase to $52,173/month as of March 2020.”
“Of the three firms that responded to the RFP and the ITB (Blue Glacier, LLC – also bidding as APC, Front Properties and Drake Construction), only Drake has demonstrated the ability to meet the court system’s space requirements and timeline at an affordable cost,” the memo says. It concluded that Front Properties’ plans for layout and spaces fell “far short of meeting the ITB requirements.”
The memo requested that a “lease agreement be awarded to Drake Construction Inc. or an LLC formed by Drake Construction and Rolland Trowbridge for court facilities to be located in the Allaqsiaac Center [sic.] in Nome. The lease cost would remain at $420,000 /year as bid by Drake Construction,” the memo says. The spelling of the center’s name is Aullaqisaaq.
Rolland Trowbridge gave The Nome Nugget a tour of the facilities. The portion of the old hospital building that will house the court underwent a $300,000 remodeling effort to be licensed as a childcare facility. Kawerak’s Headstart had been operating there while their Headstart building was remodeled, but has recently moved out into their own building again. Trowbridge said that efforts to lease out the facility as a childcare center have not gained traction. He then contacted Nome realtor Nome Sweet Homes to put the space up for lease. Realtor Robin Johnson, he said, then connected him with Toby Drake, a contractor from Kotzebue, and together they pursued the courthouse bid.
Trowbridge bought the old hospital and remodeled parts of the structure to house TSR, a car mechanics shop. Entering through the main entrance from the Bering Street side, the building houses the state DMV office, Nome Pawn, a pawnshop, and a room used for a used car dealership. At the pawnshop, a glass case holds mining equipment, jewelry and handguns, with more long arms chained to a rifle rack. Asked about the close proximity of guns for sale and a state court, Trowbridge pointed out that the only way to get from the pawn shop to the court will be to exit the building and walking around it. “The entrance to the courthouse is 414 feet away from the pawnshop, and on a different street and not in sight of the court,” he said. He also said there will be four firewalls between the court and the rest of the building and that there will be no physical access through the building from pawnshop to the court. The court would be hermetically sealed off from the part of the building that houses the pawnshop, the mechanics shop and the Trowbridge family’s private quarters. Hall, the facilities manager, said in an email that the court is not concerned with a pawn shop in the area of the courthouse as caveats, which the contractor has agreed to, will be adhered to. Those include that there would be no pathway within the building between the pawnshop space and the courthouse space; no other physical route within the facility between the pawnshop and the courthouse; at least one secure fire and sound wall between the pawnshop and the courthouse space and the public entrance, staff entry and the prisoner entry to the courthouse must be far away and out of the line of sight of the pawnshop. The prisoner delivery parking must be physically separated from the pawnshop.
How about fumes or noise from the mechanics shop? Trowbridge said the courthouse will have an entirely separate air system, separate ventilation and a separate electrical and heating system.
For the public the entrance to the courthouse will be on the southeast corner. Separate entrances are planned for court staff and yet another secure sallyport and fenced in entrance is proposed for prisoners. Trowbridge said the entire footage available to the court would be 9,000 square feet with useable square footage at around 6,800 sq ft.
The Superior Court courtroom will have 12-foot ceilings and Trowbridge envisions something grand. “It will be a majestic court room,” he said. “We want to make something that Nome can be proud of.”
According to Trowbridge, building materials are scheduled to arrive on the last barges to Nome this fall. He said by end of August the tear down of the current childcare facility will begin, construction is to go forward all winter and the target date to have the court in the new facility is June 15, 2020. The court’s facility manager pegged the moving costs at no more than $10,000.