Bids have been opened for the build-out of the fifth-floor of the York County Judicial Center, and lower-than-expected building costs could mean an expansion of the project.

As it turned out, the general contracting portion of the bid was about half the cost he expected, president commissioner Steve Chronister said. Of the five companies whose bids were opened in a room full of contractors Wednesday morning, the highest was $3.5 million — and that included the most expensive alternatives commissioners had put to bid.

Plumbing bids came in around $270,000, and the electrical work bids were about $1.2 million, for a total of about $5 million that includes every item on the county's wish list.

Commissioners had said they were hoping to keep the project to about $5 million, but they were thinking that price would only include a partial build-out — adding four courtrooms, a multipurpose room and two judge's chambers, said county facilities director Scott Cassel.

"But it looks like we're in the neighborhood of being able to do the whole thing," Cassel said. "We're happy where (the bids) came in."

"The whole thing" would include eight courtrooms, seven judge's chambers and an additional elevator. There are currently four elevators in the judicial center, Cassel said.

Timing: He said he's expecting commissioners to vote on whether to authorize the project within a month and, if they do, the work could start in June.

Chronister said the lower prices make it possible to complete the whole project instead of a partial build-out and, "if we can, I would lean toward completing the whole project."

An earlier estimate priced the complete build-out at closer to $9 million.

The fifth floor of the judicial center was left vacant to accommodate future growth when the center was built in 2004.

Last March, commissioners authorized a series of bonds to refinance some old debt and to borrow an additional $6 million for the fifth floor or other projects.

President Judge Stephen Linebaugh has pushed for the full build-out, saying the need for space is dire, that justice is being delayed because there aren't enough hearing rooms for the growing caseload.

A study released before the judicial center was built lists 1996 and 1997 projections showing the fifth floor would be needed in 2015; that's about the time the floor would likely open if the project stays on track.

Linebaugh did not immediately return a call for comment after bids were opened Wednesday.

— Reach Christina Kauffman at ckauffman@yorkdispatch.com.