The renovation of the former Russell Sales Office into Alexander City’s new municipal complex has been delayed about 1½ months because the city is considering a change in the layout of the third floor for utilities department employees.
In March, project architect JMR+H of Montgomery released a timeline estimating renovations of the 85,000-square foot building would begin in August but JMR+H principle partner Tim Holmes said it’s more likely work will begin in October and be complete by next summer.
“It’s typical of a renovation project that there’s a lot of investigation of existing conditions,” Holmes said. “It’s better to spend the time on the front end so there are no surprises later. The timeline has been pushed back slightly and that’s ordinary for something of this scale, this much square footage.”
The original plan was to consolidate the utility departments in phases but the city is considering doing it all at once and the only space available is on the third floor, which was going to be set aside for future expansion.
“We’ve added to the scope of the building after numerous meetings with all the department heads,” Holmes said. “It’s the third floor — we added the gas, water, electric (departments) and meter readers. I’d say 80% of the third floor will now be built out.”
The $9.1 million project is designed to put all city departments under one roof for much less money than constructing a new building and was the vision of the late Mayor Jim Nabors.
“It’s going to be a facility the city can be proud of,” Holmes said.
Mayor Tommy Spraggins, who as council president supported the acquisition of the building and 5.6 acres of property, said the city is leaving its options open on using the third floor.
“We may or may not choose to do it (build out the third floor),” he said. “We asked (the architects) to put that as an alternative. That was not in the original plan but Mayor Nabors asked them to do it because some of the council felt strongly about consolidation of those other groups now. Putting everybody in one building reminds you what the purpose of the building is.”
Holmes said he expects construction documents to be finished in late July, bids to be solicited in early August and received by early September. Once a contractor is selected, Holmes said it will take about 30 days to get all the contracts in place and signed.
“I would anticipate construction would start in October,” Holmes said.
City community development director Al Jones said JMR+H told him to expect between five and seven bidders for the approximately $6.5 million in renovations.
“We would hope for as many as possible because that could help get the price even better than we expected,” Jones said. “We would not expect the bids to come in much different from the architect’s final estimate. The delay has been because we aggressively sought to put everybody in the right spot. We have rearranged it several times to get the best layout possible. It’s a short delay to prevent regret down the road.”
Holmes said the 40-year-old building is in good shape and it makes more sense to renovate it and even build out the third floor now instead of later.
“It has great bones,” he said. “The building has stood up well over time and this will give it another 40 years. It was an award-winning design in its time and we don’t want to go in and hack it up. We want to retain as much of it as we can.”
The atrium with its dominant fountain will be restored to the glory of the Russell years but the rest of the interior will be dramatically changed.
“Aside from the atrium, which will be a focal point, there will be a completely new look on all floors,” Holmes said. “Russell had a lot of open office space but you’ll have enclosed departments now. It’s a total flip of the building’s use.”
Constructing a new building similar to the former sales office would cost up to nearly $11 million instead of $6.5 million for renovations, and refurbishing the third floor will cost less now than doing it later, according to Holmes.
“You could come back five years from now and try to build it out and it will be a lot more expensive,” he said. “You get a lot more out of your construction dollars if you do it now. If you built a new building like this, it would cost 50% to 65% more to build. We’re trying every way we can to keep the budget under control with finishers and materials. But it’s getting a completely new roof and there will be a total gutting of the HVAC system.”
The major expenses include installing a new roof, new HVAC system and a new generator for the emergency operations center and 911 system.
The new roof will regain its original dark bronze appearance.
“We can’t control what the contractor does as far as what they do first but I hope they start with the roof while they’re demolishing the existing interior,” Holmes said. “Ideally it would be the roof, demo, interior framing, interior systems and then finishes. We’ve also got to make it (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant.”
Holmes said the design includes an unusual configuration of the police department occupying all three floors around a secure elevator shaft.
“We will add an elevator for public use,” he said.
The city council approved financing terms that include making interest-only payments of less than $30,000 monthly the last four months of the 2019 fiscal year, beginning June 1 then principal-and-interest payments of $49,396.22 monthly beginning June 1, 2020. Those figures are based on 2.71% interest on an amortized schedule of 20 years and the loan will be refinanced every five years, Nabors said in April, one month before he died.
“It’s disappointing he won’t get to see it through to fruition,” Holmes said. “It was a dream of his. It’s motivating to our team to see it gets carried out.”
Holmes is aware of some criticism about the cost of the project and moving city hall out of downtown but said it will be worthwhile.
“It’s a major change moving city hall from downtown and some people are averse to it but it will make things so much more efficient,” he said. “It will make all the departments run so much better.”