LAURINBURG — Above the protests of Mayor Matthew Block, the Laurinburg City Council on Tuesday authorized a $40,000 pre-construction contract with a Charlotte building firm to determine a maximum cost for the proposed new Church Street municipal building.
Last fall, the city secured the architecture services of Creech and Associates of Matthews that will come with a total price tag of $540,000 for a two- to three-year design process culminating in the construction of a new building. The city has also picked Edifice, Inc. to manage the construction process if it moves forward.
The selection committee for both firms included city staff and council members Drew Williamson and J.D. Willis.
“We went through a whole RFQ process, which we’re required to, with both Creech and Edifice,” said City Manager Charles Nichols. “We wanted both a design firm and construction firm that had done local government type work and had dealt with security and police stations.”
The total cost of a 22,000-square-foot municipal building that would house all city departments including the Laurinburg Police Department, has been estimated at $7.7 million based on a 2013 study by Oakley Collier Architects of Rocky Mount and average prices per square foot.
On Tuesday night, the city council authorized Nichols to execute the $40,000 pre-construction services agreement with Edifice. That will include formulating a maximum project price based on Creech and Associates’ designs.
“That will be presented to council so council will know exactly what the project will cost before they sign a construction contract or decide not to sign a construction contract,” said Nichols. “Once they put that GMP on it, they cannot exceed that. If it comes in under that, then that’s great and we get the savings, but it cannot exceed that.”
This step also includes moving into the design development phase with Creech at a cost of $81,000 — which was included in the total $540,000 cost for design services. The first phase of the design process, now complete, cost the city $108,000.
To suggest that council seek public input before authorizing further expenditures on the City Hall project, Block temporarily turned presiding the meeting over to mayor pro tempore Mary Jo Adams.
“We have a figure now, $7.7 million plus or minus 20 or 30 percent by their own admission for soft costs, we have a ball park figure to go and present this to the citizens,” Block said.
“We’ve already spent $108,000, which was not budgeted and there was no citizen input. Now what you want to do, in what I would say is a sneaky way, by not putting it in the budget to allow for citizen input, you want to commit another $121,000. So we’re talking about spending $230,000 of the citizens’ money before you even ask them if that’s something they want to do.”
Council member J.D. Willis framed the $7.7 million estimate as purely theoretical and proposed that council contract to obtain an actual cost estimate from Edifice before putting the issue up for public comment.
“The second phase is to deal with the contractor, to have the contractor and architect to come together and see what the actual figure will be based on what the council wants,” said Willis. “Once you get the architect and the contractor to come together and come up with a fee or a figure, then council winds up discussing it and then you move on and set a public hearing date for citizens’ input.”
Though no one spoke on Tuesday, several city residents have voiced reservations about the project during the public comment portion of prior council meetings.
But council members say they have also heard from residents who support the idea.
“We’ve been hearing that maybe we should renovate, and I’m more convinced than ever that that would be a bad idea,” said council member Drew Williamson.
The current City Hall was constructed in the mid-1950s and expanded some 20 years later. City staff and Creech architects have said that the design and construction of the building makes electrical and technological upgrades difficult and costly. A 2013 space needs analysis, performed by Oakley Collier Architects of Rocky Mount, identified the need for 22,000 square feet to house various city departments —7,000 more than the current police station and W. Charles Barrett administrative building combined.
Other concerns include the level of public access to the police department, asbestos flooring, and staircases too narrow to comply with current fire codes.
In other business on Tuesday, Nichols announced that the city’s new community development director will begin work on Friday.
Michael Mandeville of Raeford comes to the city after three years with the Fayetteville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization. Mandeville holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from West Virginia University and his wife Holly Mandeville is employed by St. Andrews University as head volleyball coach.
The city council also scheduled a public hearing on its 2016-2017 budget for 7 p.m. on June 21. Work on that budget will continue in a workshop at 5:30 p.m. on June 9.
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.