Council balks on rising new City Hall costs

Sean C. Morgan

The Sweet Home City Council last week voted 4-3 to reject a proposal to pay about $101,000 for City Hall construction documents.

During the council’s regular meeting on Nov. 28, councilors Dave Trask, Lisa Gourley, Bob Briana and Mayor Greg Mahler voted no while councilors Susan Coleman, Diane Gerson and James Goble voted yes on the proposal.

Those voting no objected to the cost of the documents, which City Manager Ray Towry explained are required to begin remodeling the new City Hall, 3225 Main St.

A $1.1 million estimate for the construction project by Scott Edwards Architecture of Portland was based on information from Portland-area contractors.

The remodeling project would repair damage caused by a leaky roof and substantially alter the building’s floor plan.

These estimates and costs for a new City Hall are higher than councilors had hoped for in July 2016, when they voted to purchase the former U.S. Forest Service Sweet Home Ranger District building for $750,000.

While considering whether to purchase the building in July 2016, Trask asked four local contractors what they thought it would cost to get the building usable again. He received answers from two, one for $240,000 and a second for $324,000, which considered prevailing wage requirements.

Scott Edwards Architecture had told the council that remodeling the 12,700-square-foot building would cost $1.8 million to $2.4 million in addition to the purchase price of the property – a total cost of $2.55 million to $3.15 million.

The firm provided unofficial estimates in fall 2015 for rebuilding at City Hall’s current site, 1140 12th Ave. Those estimates ranged from $1.6 million to $3.8 million. The lowest estimate was for a 40-percent increase to the size of the existing City Hall, 12,900 square feet. The largest was the high estimate for a 22,840-square-foot City Hall, a 150 percent increase in size.

A year ago, the council agreed to pay Scott Edwards Architecture up to $6,000 for schematic designs, preliminary engineering and cost estimates to reconstruct the interior of the new City Hall. Scott Edwards was the apparent low bidder in an informal bidding process.

Towry said the firm completed the work for slightly less than its estimate.

“The next step is to turn the floor plan into construction documents complete with engineering,” he said. “This will allow staff to obtain necessary permits and advertise for bids to get a true understanding of actual costs. The schematic design estimate is just over $1 million, however SEA recognizes that number may be high because they used a Portland contractor for the estimate. A local contractor should, theoretically, be less expensive.”

The city received three informal quotes, Towry said. Scott Edwards bid $101,000, while BBL Architects bid $144,000, which did not include consulting services, and Studio-e Architecture bid $68,000, which did not include permit costs, construction services or consulting services.

“Of the quotes we received, staff believes SEA is the best bid,” Towry said. “SEA submitted the most complete, thorough bid and they have background on the project having developed the schematic floor plan already. Staff will not have to get them up to speed.

“It makes a lot of sense to go with the same architect which did the floor plan.”

With the building industry busy across the Willamette Valley, Towry told the council that the city had difficulty finding three companies that would bid on the project.

“It kind of baffles me that we’re going to pay $100,000 to somebody to come in and tell us where to hang sheet rock,” Trask said. “This is just the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. We’re going to have a contractor here that can come in from right here in Sweet Home or maybe Lebanon or Albany or somewhere, and they’re not going to know where to do sheet rock, and they’re not going to know where to put those walls?

“We know where the toilets are going to go. They’re already plumbed. This makes no sense to me.”

Briana agreed with Trask, noting that the project is approaching $2 million.

Gourley said it would cost more to rebuild at the current City Hall.

City Attorney Robert Snyder said he learned, talking to an architect, that the cost for documents is usually about 10 percent of the project cost.

Coleman asked whether the documents are required to move forward.

Towry explained they are needed to obtain permits, and Scott Edwards followed industry standards with its bid.

“If you go out for a bid, this is what you’re going to get, no matter who you go to,” Towry said.

Gourley said she was not impressed with the firm, which handled the Jim Riggs Community Center. She said the building has electrical and roofing problems.

Mahler wondered why the city couldn’t take this project out to someone local.

Towry said the city went to firms that are experienced with municipal buildings and similar structures.

“The thing that really irritates me is that we have a building that was ADA-approved by the United States government,” Trask said. “And it meets all the stuff. They did the environmental thing. They did the other stuff for the hazards and all those things.

“Why can’t we get a local contractor to come in and bid that without doing $100,000?”

Sweet Home has contractors who can bid on plumbing, wiring and the walls, Trask said.

“What you have is a floor plan,” Towry said. “It doesn’t spell out the electrical wiring. It doesn’t spell out the fixtures. It doesn’t spell out the placement. It doesn’t spell out the load-bearing walls. It doesn’t spell out HVAC. It doesn’t spell any of those things out. You can’t go to a contractor and say build this if they don’t know where to put things. There’s no engineering.”

The floor plan contains a variety of alterations to the existing building.

“We may not be putting the toilets back in the same spots,” Towry said.

Noting that the proposal was for “blueprints” for the building, Goble moved to hire Scott Edwards. Coleman gave a second to the motion.

After the council rejected the proposal, Towry asked the council what it wanted to do, noting that the city cannot move forward without construction documents.

Looking around, 10 percent is what the cost will be, he said.

Gourley said she thought the cost, 10 percent of the total estimate, is too high, particularly since it’s based on information from Portland-area contractors.

Towry said the city can seek a more localized estimate, although he anticipated that the city would need to pay another fee because Scott Edwards has already done the job.

Briana said the building must have original plans; and even if it fell down, it could be rebuilt following those plans.

The building does need rewired and other work, Gourley said, but it’s not OK to charge the city based on hypothetical numbers.

The quote is a little high, Mahler said, thinking about one expert who told him a generator would cost $500,000.

Towry recommended that councilors who had not yet walked through the building do so, comparing the current floor plan to the proposed floor plan; and he said he can collect more details for the council’s Dec. 12 meeting.

Briana told The New Era he toured the building afterward, and he doesn’t believe the project will cost $1 million. Heating and ventilation is estimated at $250,000, but he thinks it might really be $40,000 to $60,000.

He’s open to different ideas to get the job done, he said. “It’s a really nice building. I think the end result, it might be a nice building.”

But he remained concerned about the cost of construction documents.

In other business, the council:

n Approved two ordinances 7-0 altering water and wastewater utility policies following the third readings of each ordinance.

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