Press-Republican

January 17, 2013

Municipal building costs shoot through roof

By ANDREA VanVALKENBURG, Contributing Writer
Press-Republican

---- — DANNEMORA — Architects say it will cost at least $500,000 to finish the town’s new Municipal Building.

The project has already exceeded the original estimated $2 million price tag.

The new numbers were released Tuesday night to the dismay of taxpayers and town officials.

“We don’t have enough in our current budget,” Town Budget Officer Kristine Bowman said during a two-hour meeting about the project’s status.

AES Northeast architect David Whitford said final work on the combined-services portion of the building could cost roughly $559,144, a big hike over preliminary estimates.

“It could come in less, it could come in more,” depending on future bids, he said as he presented the firm’s final plan specifications at the special Town Council session.

NOT IN BUDGET

In November, preliminary numbers suggested the remaining cost for the facility on Route 374 in Chazy Lake would come in at around $300,000, but the completed report revealed a higher price tag for general construction, and mechanical, plumbing and electrical work.

Whitford also noted that the final numbers do not take into account additional possible “soft costs,” such as a communications system.

Bowman projected the final price, including those costs, could soar to “$650,000 or more.”  

She said $230,000 was allocated in this year’s budget for the remaining work and that only a budget reconfiguration could move any additional money into the project this year.

Town Supervisor Americo “Ves” Pivetta said there’s a remaining $200,000 on hand from previous allocations, but Bowman said that money cannot be fully taken into account, as a portion of it is reserved for previous unpaid work.

BLINDSIDED

As of Tuesday, the building had cost $2,181,571.

The project has been under way since 2008, when the town purchased the steel framework of the structure, anticipating completion over five years.

The plan was blindsided by a New Year’s Day fire in 2010 that destroyed the town’s highway garage and left officials scrambling to expedite the building’s development.

After more than a year of construction and a series of increased costs, the Highway Department moved into the building in 2011.

Work on the town and judicial portion is now expected to be finished by this summer if the bid process moves forward in the near future, Whitford said.

WATER, INSULATION, MILDEW

News of the final cost, coupled by frustration with ongoing construction issues, prompted several residents to voice concern with how the project has been handled.

Dave Siskavich questioned why no one, such as a clerk of the works, independently monitored the work to identify and correct construction issues as the project progressed.

“Why would you not check and inspect the work?” he repeatedly questioned as councilors discussed issues with water quality, the wood-boiler system, insulation and mildew.

He urged the council not to “waste any more taxpayer money” until the work can be inspected.

“It’s about time the taxpayer came first.”

HEATING QUESTIONS

Later in the meeting, Whitford also recommended a part-time clerk of the works, an expense that would not be included in the latest financial numbers.

Councilors and residents also now question whether the boiler system — the building’s primary heat source — is adequate for the entire building, noting there have already been problems with its energy output and an increasing need for propane-heat supplements.

“(If) we can’t afford to heat what we’ve got, we need to look at how to heat it before we finish the building,” Chazy Lake resident Jeff King said.

He asked councilors to review the boiler specifications to determine whether the existing system is, in fact, adequate to heat the 11,800-square-foot building.

Whitford said a heat-loss calculation could be made to determine whether the system is suitable.

’UNFORESEEN ISSUES’

Pivetta said he, too, has been frustrated, but noted the past work and related decisions were made following research and input from those involved and entrusted with the project.

As with any project, he said, unforeseen issues have contributed to higher costs and the need for immediate action by the building committee, which has been criticized for making decisions without full input from the board.

“I don’t hold any secrets,” Pivetta said as he encouraged residents to review public financial documentation regarding project expenses.

“My door is always open.”

‘COMPOUNDED PROBLEMS’

Pivetta said the project is in line with other municipal projects of similar size and said further delays in the project could result in even higher completion costs.

“We need to put a plan together and go from there,” Councilor William Chase said.

Officials are awaiting water-testing results to identify any possible problems with the water supply at the facility, and Bowman asked AES officials to provide a quote on what it would cost to survey the current construction and identify any problems.

Whitford said his firm can inspect and analyze the majority of the past work and provide recommendations if the board opts to request that at an additional fee.

“Because these problems weren’t being addressed, they’re being compounded,” said Councilor Lori Stacey, who took her concerns to the Press-Republican earlier so the public would be aware of the meeting.

“We need to find out what’s wrong first, and we need to fix what’s wrong.”

The project will be discussed further at a meeting set for 6 p.m. Jan. 30 at the Town Hall on Cook Street

in Dannemora.