Harford County is undertaking a nearly $2 million comprehensive review of county-owned and operated facilities, a review that involves 184 public buildings, including schools, libraries, Harford Community College, volunteer fire companies and general government facilities.
The county is also spending millions more to upgrade its emergency radio system, a project that began in the late 1990s.
Engineers with the Jacobs Project Management Company of Baltimore, which the county has hired to conduct the review, will start going over each building in January.
Debbie Henderson, director of the Department of Procurement, said the county has conducted facilities reviews before, but not on the scale that is proposed for the current project.
"It's never encompassed all the various facility types that we're including in this," she explained.
Barring any future change orders, the project will cost just in excess of $1.9 million. An initial contract for $802,785.40 was awarded to Jacobs in July 2013, and members of the county's Board of Estimates voted 6-0 during their most recent meeting on Dec. 19 to award the firm a $1.11 million contract for the second phase of the project.
The goal of the project is to create a countywide facilities master plan, which includes a database, that Harford officials can use to prioritize the needs of each building and allocate capital funds accordingly, Henderson said.
"It's a big undertaking, but in this way it takes a lot of the politics out of it, and in black and white you can see what building needs the money the most," she said.
The massive assessment comes at time when the county administration has all but abandoned a proposal to significantly change the government center in Bel Air by constructing a new main county office building on the vacant property it owns at Main Street and Churchville Road. That plan, which was entitled the Global Space Plan, also proposed building a new sheriff's headquarters and ending a widespread practice of leasing space in private buildings in and around Bel Air for a significant number of government agencies.
The new office building was to be the $86 million centerpiece the Global Space Plan that was developed in the middle of the last decade, but County Executive David Craig put the brakes on its implementation during the ensuing recession, saying he did not want to over-extend the county financially in a bad economy.
For the new study, Henderson said, she and Pete Gutwald, director of planning and zoning, will serve as co-chairs of a committee that includes representatives of each type of facility, such as schools and government, established to oversee the project.
Henderson said the first phase involves the physical assessment of all buildings by the Jacobs engineers.
They will look aspects of each building, such as the roof, HVAC system and electrical wiring, as well as its "functionality," Henderson said.
"Is the building performing, in an effective and efficient manner, what it's supposed to be doing?" she explained.
Each building will be assigned a number grade and prioritized accordingly. The assessments are expected to be completed by the spring of 2014.
Jacobs conducted pilot assessments of one building from each facility type, and Henderson said those reports were presented to the committee last week.
The second phase calls for Jacobs staff to create a database of their findings, which would be administered by the Department of Planning and Zoning, and adjusted as county buildings change.
Henderson called it "a living document," and said it will "continue to evolve and change as we do things to the building over the course of a year."
The database is expected to be completed by June 30, 2014, the end of the current fiscal year. Henderson said it would not be available for capital planning for the next fiscal year, FY 2014-2015, but should be used for the year after, FY 2015-2016.
She said Craig, who is chairman of the Board of Estimates, and members of the County Council, can use the database as a guide as various agencies make requests for capital funding, although by the time the study is completed, Craig will have less than six months left in his final term as county executive.