MARATHON -- A capital projects budgetary review last week by finance director Peter Rosasco detailing time and money constraints gave the Marathon City Council pause in its pursuit of a new City Hall.
Bids last fall came in more than $1 million over the $5.5 million budgeted amount. Rosasco said the project must be completed for no more than $4.86 million to avoid an infrastructure fund shortfall.
City staff has indicated that the short time frame between seeking City Hall bids and the deadline for their submission, as well as the brief period to "value engineer" the bids to lower costs after two contractors had been selected, have led to a project that has not been vetted sufficiently.
Left out of the loop has been City Hall architect Bill Horn and city staff with construction backgrounds with whom former City Manager Roger Hernstadt apparently did not consult while hurrying along the project. They said they had wanted to make suggestions but were not included in value engineering talks.
Last week's special call council meeting gave all the interested parties -- council, staff, contractors and citizens -- the chance to give their concerns a full airing, and several had a lot to say, especially regarding frustration over having been given no opportunity to share their input.
Horn, who said construction costs went from $6.5 million to $5.5 million "without giving up a lot" during the first round of value engineering, said additional "simple things" could bring costs down further.
Matthew West of West Construction, one of the two successful bidders on the project, suggested the council pick one of the two firms and work with them to bring costs down further.
"They're the ones who will be able to tell you what you need," he said.
Botsford/Overholt Construction, the other successful bidder on the city hall project, submitted a statement in January with its value engineering estimates that "depending on latitude as allowed by design team and owner, our team feels the budget could very realistically be reduced to the $4 million range including revised chambers/cultural center."
Rosasco, however, recommended staff input over additional talks with contractors.
"At this point, I want capable staff to handle this," he said. "I don't need to hear from contractors."
The Marathon City Council, wanting to get the project built as quickly as possible while being cost-effective, agreed to take a step back and give staff an opportunity to offer suggestions for lowering the total cost of the project.
Vice Mayor Chris Bull encapsulated the budget and planning challenge.
"Listening to the numbers, we'll be really in the hole if we go forward with anything over $4.5 million, our original budget," he said.
Attorney John Herin, however, advised caution on too many changes.
"The farther we get away from original designs, one could argue that you have to go out for bid again," he said.
The council will revisit the matter at its Feb. 25 meeting.