KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Kalamazoo County’s new justice center in downtown Kalamazoo was expected to open in less than two months, but the construction company working on it says the courts will have to wait two more months.
The representative of the managing firm overseeing the project says it’s not inflated costs or a shortage of supplies or materials but rather a shortage of skilled workers causing the delay.
He told county commissioners at a Tuesday meeting that up until mid-July, his firm had confidence the justice center on N. Park Street and W. Kalamazoo Street would’ve been finished in October.
“I didn’t want to pull the fire alarm, so to speak, at that point (in July),” Jerry VanderVeen, president of M.W. VanderVeen Company, said. “It’s always a judgment call, and perhaps I waited a little longer than I should have, but it’s always our goal to deliver a project on time.”
VanderVeen explained his subcontractors don’t have enough manpower. He blamed the construction force needed for three battery plant projects in the state, totaling more than a billion dollars.
“We just don’t have that availability. It’s not just (construction firm) CSM (Group). It’s any major builder that I talked to goes, ‘We just can’t get people. We just can’t deliver these projects when we want,'” VanderVeen said.
According to the county, 114 skilled trade workers are finishing up the justice center, but at least 180 are needed to finish on schedule.
“We want to be patient. We know it causes a ripple effect in government,” Kalamazoo County Administrator/Controller Kevin Catlin said. “We understand that it impacts residents. It impacts guests. But we want to make sure we open up a building that is quality and one we can be proud of.”
Until that is done, staff with the courts and prosecutor’s office will need to reschedule court sessions, including trials. The delay’s real-world impact on the public otherwise will not be noticeable, Prosecutor Jeff Getting said.
“There’s going to be a lot of scrambling behind the scenes as the courts reschedule cases or look at what their scheduling is,” Getting said. “We make sure that we’re getting people where they need to go and (are) notified of the right place.”
The delay means court and prosecutor staff are now expected to move into the new building on Dec. 4.
As for additional costs, VanderVeen told commissioners that financial setbacks from the delay are “nominal.”
“As far as the construction project goes, it’s not going to cost the county anymore,” said VanderVeen. “We still have adequate contingency.”
But Commission Chair John Taylor disagreed, arguing that the costs could be substantial.
“You’re looking at the moving costs. You’re looking at renting from (Michigan Avenue Courthouse),” Taylor said. “You’re looking at all the different courts that are going to have to resend out summons and notices… We’re going to have to reschedule trials. The cost is going to be in the millions, at least a million bucks.”
The county administrator said the exact figure is to be determined. But if added costs make the $94 million project go over budget, county taxpayers have to pick up the tab unless the company is willing to — it is not required to do so.
“The project budget itself can absorb the brunt of those costs,” Catlin said. “Otherwise … the taxpayers’ general fund will have to cover it.”