Alexander City’s new municipal complex will cost more than originally budgeted but the city council can trim out add-ons once the winning bid is accepted and competition between contractors could drive the price down.
The city council met in a work session Wednesday at city hall to hear architects from JMR+H reveal the final plans for the conversion of the 85,000-square foot former Russell Sales Office into a new city hall that will consolidate all departments.
During the presentation, JMR+H contract administrator Dean Sharp estimated the cost will be above the $6.7 million approved by the city council in January but the firm numbers won’t be known until bids are opened and the contractor is chosen.
“We haven’t designed a Taj Mahal but it’s going to be a beautiful facility and functional,” Mayor Tommy Spraggins said. “It is being built for the function, not any person. This is being built for the future. It’s projected it will give us 40 more years. It’s going to be great for Alexander City.”
Police chief Jay Turner, whose department is working out of the cramped and aging courthouse downtown, said nothing in the project is extravagant.
“It’s not wants, it’s what we need,” Turner said.
However, Spraggins is adamant he does not want the city to borrow any more money for the renovation.
“I want to find a way to do it and not borrow any more,” Spraggins said. “I think we can do it.”
Spraggins authorized JMR+H to begin advertising for bids in a month-long process beginning Tuesday.
“We asked them to put in several alternates to add scope after it was approved (in January),” Spraggins said. “We can see how far we want to go with it after we get the bids.”
The cost will go up because the third floor will be built out and mostly occupied instead of remaining vacant; a new generator is needed for E911 and dispatch services; and when engineers got a chance to study the building more closely after the original estimate was made, they found problems that must be corrected.
“The mechanical number jumped upon discovery,” JMR+H principal architect Tim Holmes said.
Despite that, Holmes said the 40-year-old building is in good shape.
“It was an award-winning building when it was built and we’re giving it another life,” he said. “I’ve said it before — the bones of this building are really good. It’s a shame it sat there and deteriorated but I think we caught it in time.”
Council president Tim Funderburk said collecting all city departments under one roof remains the chief benefit of moving to the building.
“Our main reasoning for supporting this was to consolidate,” Funderburk said.
Councilmember Bobby Tapley said he’d like to see a calculation of how much money the city will save by closing all its scattered buildings.
“It’s a great site and capable of additional growth,” Holmes said. “If you want to add a fire station, for example, that would be a good place for one.”
The third floor was originally going to remain vacant and held for future growth but after the architects met with department heads it was decided to use it for public works, utilities, finance, information technology, meter readers, the city judge, purchasing, code enforcement and file storage.
“I’d say the third floor is about ¾ full now,” Holmes said.
The addition of a mud room on the main floor for employees who work outside necessitated some of the migration to the third floor. The 22-foot by 20-foot mud room will feature toilets, ice machines and areas where muddy boots can be washed.
Holmes said competition between contractors for the project could push the price down.
“And there is a lot of competition out there,” Sharp said.
Unit pricing could also limit unexpected costs once construction begins, Holmes said.
The low bid won’t necessarily be the one accepted. JMR+H could recommend a more qualified bidder to eliminate what appears to be a cheaper bid until change orders inflate the cost.
The alternate add-ons to the project must be listed in the order of magnitude when bids are advertised but once the winning bid is accepted the city council can decide to use them or discard them.
Sharp said the renovations are much more economical as opposed to constructing a similar new building.
“It will cost $70 to $75 per square foot less than if you built a new building,” Sharp said.
Holmes reviewed 113 sheets of architectural drawings for the council. The plans include:
• Additional secure parking for the police and fire departments in the rear of the building.
• Changing the slope of the front parking lot to make it compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
• A secure elevator for police and a new elevator for the public using an existing shaft.
• An upgraded sprinkler system throughout.
• All-new, energy-efficient LED lights inside.
• A new roof.
• A refurbished atrium “The stone floor is not ADA compliant,” Holmes said. “You need a smooth surface a wheelchair can traverse. We’re also going to make a pre-function area where people can gather before meetings.”
• The revival of the fountains in the atrium.
• A new ceiling. “Lots of the ceiling has to be removed to accommodate new LED lighting fixtures,” Holmes said. “We’d spend more money cutting up the ceiling than putting a new one in.”
• A new HVAC system. “Instead of the big boilers, we will use multiple units above the ceiling to give you better control of zones,” Holmes said. “It’ll be a more economical setup. They’ll be tied to new units on the outside.”
Sharp added: “They will be much easier to maintain and replace.”
Spraggins said there are several possibilities to make up any overages. One is to save $1 million on the fleet budget for 2020, use $550,000 available as the city’s portion of a surplus from the Alabama Municipal Electric Authority and use $205,000 in accumulated funds for municipal court operations.
“Our people have done an excellent job replacing the fleet the last several years,” Spraggins said, “and we can reduce our investment in the fleet. The $550,000 from the AMEA is the city’s percentage of their surplus and we can use it for improvements in the electrical system, such as the LED lights. And we have been putting money in an account for municipal court and never used it. We could use it for bulletproof glass in the new court and for the judge’s chambers.”
The city approved $9.1 million to acquire 5.6 acres of property, including the former Russell Sales Office and frontage on U.S. Highway 280. The financing terms 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.