Delaware County officials last week moved a step closer to selecting a firm to construct a planned $50-million courthouse.

Delaware County officials last week moved a step closer to selecting a firm to construct a planned $50-million courthouse.

The pool of candidates to build a new 135,000-square-foot county courthouse has been narrowed to three, with the team of Gilbane Inc. and The Quandel Group Inc. rising to the top of the hopefuls.

County commissioners last Monday unanimously agreed to move forward with negotiations with Providence, R.I.-based Gilbane and Harrisburg, Pa.-based Quandel, which submitted a joint proposal to lead construction of the courthouse.

Prior to the move, a committee of county facilities officials and Pizzuti Cos., the county's owner's representative for the courthouse project, ranked the Gilbane-Quandel proposal as the top of six submitted for the project.

Submissions from Messer Construction and Turner Construction were ranked second and third, respectively. Those firms could receive the construction contract if negotiations with Gilbane-Quandel prove unsuccessful.

Jon Melvin, Delaware County facilities supervisor, said there are no projected contract costs at this stage. "We asked for qualifications," he said.

Melvin said the committee sought a construction manager who is experienced in courthouse projects and familiar with local zoning and building procedures.

In Gilbane, the committee saw a company that will construct a new, $105-million Franklin County Courthouse.

Quandel recently completed construction of a new, $12-million facility for the Delaware County Council for Older Adults. The firm also is leading the 26,510-square-foot expansion of the Sarah Moore Health Care Center in downtown Delaware, and has built emergency medical services stations for the county in Harlem and Scioto townships.

The committee also noted that Gilbane and Quandel have experience working in "tight" construction sites. This is important, it deemed, because the new courthouse will be built on a site neighboring the county's Rutherford B. Hayes Building, which will remain fully operational during construction.

"All three firms that were short listed are used to working in what's considered to be an urban site, which is what this is considered," said Michael Bird, Pizzuti's principal in charge.

The county wants to begin construction of the new courthouse this year.

Preliminary plans call for a three-story facility which would house 16 hearing rooms, as well as space for the Delaware County Common Pleas and Juvenile courts, and affiliated clerks' offices.

The new building would replace the county's 138-year-old courthouse at 91 N. Sandusky St.

Future uses for that facility continue to be explored.

To date, the county has entered a $501,000 contract with DesignGroup for design services related to the new courthouse, and Pizzuti was granted a $279,000 contract to serve as the county's owner's representative.

Melvin said a construction management contract could be in place within the next month, depending on the progress of negotiations with Gilbane-Quandel.

In supporting the pursuit of negotiations, commissioner Kris Jordan, who has opposed the new courthouse project over concerns about its size and cost, said he wants to ensure the county employs the best-qualified firms to conduct the work.

"Now that the train's leaving the station, I guess I have a responsibility -- we do share a responsibility -- of picking the best team," he said.