Expected cost of Allegan city hall renovations rankles some
Allegan’s City Council will be tightening the purse strings for renovations to the new city hall building on Trowbridge Street.
During an hour-long discussion in a pre-session council meeting Jan. 28, council members Nancy Ingalsbee and Mike Manning were not happy with the escalating cost of renovations saying they were under the impression the project would cost $1.4 million and now costs were estimated at $2.4 million.
“All changes you’re proposing don’t come close to a million dollars and we were a million over,” said Ingalsbee. “I’m concerned that at the last minute you’ll go into our fund balance and we’re put in a bad fiscal crunch.
“In my eight years on council we’re proud to have maintained a healthy fund balance (of at least $1 million), which is important in case of emergencies.”
City staff pointed out that GMB architecture and engineering provided a space study that averaged about $1.3 million for the project based on renovation costs per square foot. Progressive AE was hired to do the actual design and build phases incorporating staff and public needs and goals for a plan that cost from $1.8 million to $2 million, including a $50,000 contingency.
City council approved bonding for $2 million to pay for the city hall project as well as improvements to Griswold Auditorium, the Regent Theater and construction of new riverfront restrooms.
Bids came in on Dec. 20, at nearly 20 percent above the highest estimate for the project. A tight bidding market and inflated costs due to new tariffs were attributed to rising bid prices.
“We had one bidder say they added 30 percent because of the unknown impact from steel tariffs,” said city manager Joel Dye said. “Bids are uncontrollable on our part.”
Since the bids came back high, city staff scaled back the project while not abandoning goals. New conceptual drawings were presented to the council Jan. 14, removing such design frills as the two-story wall extending above the roof displaying a clock, a flag pole area at the curb, a fireplace, new entryway, cement fiber board finish for the exterior instead of wood and place holding for the future an elevator and new stairway to the basement since offices will be on the first floor.
City staff went back to the original four points for needs of a city hall. They include administrative functionality, better technology, ADA and general public accessibility, and conference rooms for both confidential and productive meetings.
A council chamber is proposed to host seating for 60-65. Leaseable office space will also occupy up to 1,700 square feet.
While it was also a goal to hold elections at the new city hall, Dye said staff is rethinking that proposal after the high turnout in the last election. Enough space would be needed to stay compliant with election rules such as a 10-foot perimeter around the tabulator, work and voting stations and a poll watching area.
Receiving individual bids for 12 sub categories of the project, including plumbing, HVAC, electrical, general carpentry, etc., six bids came in over budget and were rebid. Staff is now waiting for returned bids and more bidders are responding, said city manager Joel Dye. Nine of the original bids had only one or two bidders.
Finance director Tracy Stull said staff was doing their due diligence to get costs under $2 million; however, they would not be able to cut $1 million from the project. She assured the council the fund balance as of Dec. 31, was at $1.25 million.
Feb. 12 is the new deadline for bids. A special meeting of the council will be held to appraise them.
“Trust us that we will do what we can when we have good information,” Stull said.
Manning said, “We trusted you when we voted on it and sent it on with a beautiful building for the city for under $2 mill and had money left over. We were told we had this rising roof, beautiful fireplace, council chambers, the clock and it looks to me that was all blown away and we’ve got a cement block building left.
“We didn’t get what we approved.”
Mayor Rachel McKenzie reminded council that no plans had been approved yet. Only conceptual plans had been presented for city hall and also for the public restroom plan.
Manning also questioned escalating asbestos removal costs. He said he thought a much lower price was paid than the $49,000 he read in the newspaper.
There was some dispute over whether an inspector could’ve torn up carpets to find the asbestos tiles prior to the city purchasing the building in order to negotiate the cost of abatement into the cost of the building.
Dye said while in-house inspectors looked at the structural aspect, a hazardous material study by Wightman Associates wasn’t conducted until after the building was purchased. That’s when holes were punched in walls and carpets torn up to find it—damages they couldn’t make until owning the building. Dye took full responsibility for not detecting asbestos sooner. He also said for full disclosure, abatement costs were $49,000 and then a change order was received to include an additional $9,652 for further asbestos previously undetected for a total abatement cost of $58,652.
Manning said he had a community member say city hall needed to be tabled until a public hearing is held and he would not continue discussions based on speculative costs.
Going forward, both Ingalsbee and Manning asked to see all financial numbers going into the project and where in the budget it was coming from.
Council member Charles Tripp said he didn’t like the idea of not having an elevator.
“We have 11,000-square-feet in the basement that can’t be rented until we have an elevator,” he said. “Until bids come in, we don’t have an answer yet.”
Council member Traci Perrigo said the city can’t go backwards.
“Drawings get put out there—those are the Taj Mahal—the conceptual drawings,” she said. “Like the library, their original drawing is not what they got,” she said. “Things change and you have to change with it.”
New council member Delora Andrus said bids came back high.
“We can’t control that and we’re going back to make adjustments—I appreciate that,” she said. “I heard from a lot of people that said our concept plan was too much so I don’t think they’ll be too disappointed this plan doesn’t have flagpoles out front.”