The City Council is expected to make a decision today about whether unallocated funds in the 2019 Capital Improvements Program can help cover dramatic cost increases in the Lawton City Hall renovation project.
That project has been a point of discussion during two recent council meetings, as city officials and project manager CMS Willowbrook work to launch work that will convert three now-vacant floors in Lawton City Hall into office space, along with renovating space already being used. Some work already has been completed (a parking lot has been built on the west side of the building, and the building’s HVAC system has been ordered), but the bulk of the conversion work was expected to begin earlier this year. Funding for the project is coming from $6 million designated in the 2019 Capital Improvements Program (CIP).
But, dramatic increases in construction costs is affecting most major construction projects, including the city hall renovation, and CMS Willowbrook now is estimating the project at $7.57 million, based on bids from subcontractors that have been analyzed as city officials get closer to the start date. That discussion between city staff and CMS Willowbrook has coincided with council action on what a city resolution defines as excess funds but what city officials say is inflationary unspent funds in the 2019 CIP.
Those $5,472,607 come from the difference between the $28.97 million the 2.125 percent CIP sales tax is generating in the 2022-2023 fiscal year, versus the $23.5 million that city staff projected it would generate. The council resolution that defined the CIP specifies if revenues exceed $23.5 million annually, “such funds will be considered excess funds and those excess funds will be allocated by the Council upon receipt of input from citizens….” That means the council will decide how those excess funds will be spent, after input from citizens.
Citizens had one chance to make comments; they will have a second opportunity at today’s meeting.
City administrators said earlier this year they are recommending the funds be spent on the city hall renovation project, because of the higher-than-expected costs due to the current building climate exceed designated money. But, there also has been debate on exactly what work will be done.
City Engineer Joseph Painter said last week city staff and CMS Willowbrook had been recommending the council reject the lone $1.2 million bid received for installation of the HVAC system and rebid it to get more and competitive bids. Painter said while most of the bidders were higher than projected, the HVAC work was “way over” engineering estimates. But, preliminary attempts to identify additional bidders haven’t been successful and officials don’t feel they will attract more companies if they re-let bids, so they now recommend the council accept the lone bid.
“I recommend we accept all the bids as they are,” Painter said, of a list of subcontractor work that will range from drywall to HVAC installation.
City administrators have said they are concerned about delaying the project any longer, as well as the potential that further delays will mean additional cost increases.
The council’s final decision is expected to come today, and city attorneys said the council has the option of accepting all proposed bids from subcontractors or rejecting the HVAC installation work and directing it to be rebid.
The city hall project has been cited as an efficiency and cost-saving measure because converting the unused top floor of the south wing and the unused second and third floors of the north wing will provide more space for city offices. That would allow the city to transfer the finance and IT offices still in the City Hall Annex to Lawton City Hall. Former City Manager Michael Cleghorn has said the city’s option was to spent millions of dollars on the annex for work that included extensive foundation and HVAC upgrades, or spend that money completing Lawton City Hall, then relocating offices from the annex.
The annex will be demolished when it is empty, the same plan the city has for the old police station one block away.