COOPERSTOWN, N.D. – A mediation session has been scheduled for March 3 in an attempt to resolve a year-long dispute over construction of a still-unfinished and vacant $3.5 million Griggs County Courthouse/Emergency Operations Center in Cooperstown.

The three sides involved in the dispute – Griggs County, the Griggs County Building Authority and the general contractor, Construction Engineers, Grand Forks – have been at odds at least since last February, when the contractor threatened to stop working because of payment delays and contract language issues.

Construction crews finally walked off the job in May, with the project estimated to be 90 to 95 percent completed.

In August, Construction Engineers filed a lien against the county and Building Authority for more than $856,000, plus interest.

All parties agreed in November to enter into mediation.

Meanwhile, the county has been making some payments, as it has received reimbursement through a federal grant to pay for 75 percent of the $1.3 million EOC portion of the project. The latest payment of about $142,000 was made in January.

Construction Engineers contends the county still owes the company about $274,000 for work already completed.

The county maintains any remaining bills are the responsibility of the Building Authority.

The Building Authority’s position is that any remaining bills are the result of the project’s delay, which it claims is the County Commission’s responsibility.

Two projects

The Griggs County project is unique in that it involves two separate projects rolled into one contract, with each controlled by a different group. That’s the result of a recall election in October 2013 in which all five county commissioners were defeated. The county oversees the EOC portion of the project, while the Building Authority presides over the courthouse.

The recall was prompted by the former County Commission’s decision earlier in 2013 to proceed with building a new courthouse and adjacent EOC, despite voters’ rejection of three separate bond issues to finance different versions of the project.

The commissioners then formed a private, nonprofit organization to issue $2.2 million in bonds to pay for it over 20 years, as well as to oversee the construction project.

Normally, that poses no problems because the County Commission and the Building Authority usually are comprised of the same people.

But the recall changed that.

Old and new

The new one-story courthouse is located just south of the existing courthouse, which is the oldest county courthouse in North Dakota still in its original use. Built in 1884 for about $30,000, the three-story building is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The building project was prompted by a series of health, structural and accessibility issues in the building, which the former County Commission determined were too costly to address.

In 2011, the county social services department and sheriff’s department were forced to move out of the building after mold was discovered on the bottom floor. Since then, mold has been found elsewhere in the building.

All county offices will move into the new building, with the courthouse on one side and the EOC on the other.

Officials estimate it will take more than $60,000 to complete the project, and the County Commission has approved paying for the finishing work. However, the project likely will not be completed until after the financial dispute is settled in mediation.