Residents question growing project costs

By MADELINE HUGHES

Shelburne residents filled the room for Tuesday’s Selectboard meeting where they raised concerns about the Library Town Center project. With steel expected to be delivered by the end of the week, unforseen costs have increased.

Roughly 25 residents waited out an executive session on the Vermont Railway lawsuit in order to address the board. At issue is the cost overrun on the $6.5 million project to rebuild Pierson Library, renovate the Historic Town Hall, and update the municipal campus. The overruns came to light earlier this month after contaminated soils were discovered at the building site.

Ruth Hagerman, chair of library Board of Trustees, said “value engineering” has resulted in roughly $500,000 in cuts to the project. However, library staff and volunteers have said they are running out of items to cut.

When asked about what had been cut, Library Director Kevin Unrath told the crowd Tuesday he was mulling whether to cut kids’ book bins and other accessory items from the project costs. Unrath also said that contractors chose less expensive heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems. Plans for a basement were deleted from the design earlier this year when engineers found a high water table at the site.Unrath said that move  saved over $100,000.

Despite the discussion at the meeting,  it was unclear how much has been cut from the project’s budget.

Hagerman said there are two contingency funds. According to her presentation, the contractor Neagly and Chase has an $83,000 contingency fund that will be used at the firm’s discretion. The town built in a $78,000 contingency fund, of which the committee overseeing the project wants to use $65,500 to meet state code requirements.

“How are we surprised with state codes?” resident Susan McClelland asked. “Aren’t those cut and dry?”

Town officials explained that renovations to the Historic Town Hall are involving more code compliance issues than expected as additional steps in the renovation process are being identified.

Hagerman pointed to chandeliers in the Town Hall that must be brought up to electrical code from their early 1900s wiring. The front stairs also have to be completely redone after crumbling concrete was found beneath the brick.

Residents asked why engineers did not forsee costs such as the contaminated soils and aging elements of the Town Hall such as the  chandeliers, coupla and front steps. Removing the contaminated soils has cost more than $100,000 Hagerman’s presentation showed.

Resident Sean Moran asked why the contingency was not larger.

“Why wasn’t it planned for?” he asked.

Neagly and Chase CEO Andrew Martin said some of these wrinkles were not visible during the design phase. “You can’t put a drill rig in the middle of a library when it’s occupied,” he said.

He pointed out that most of the contaminated soils were found under the existing library during excavation. Repairs to the Town Hall cupola and front steps have added an additional $33,000 to the project cost, officials said.

Martin explained that contractors did not do extensive investigation into the work those renovations would need because of cost-cutting measures.“This was a very, very tight budget,” Martin said. Analyzing details such as the cupola would not have been cost-effective before the bond vote, he explained.

So, how will the town cover the unforeseen costs?

Selectboard Chair Jerry Storey suggested some items such as repaving the municipal campus parking lot, could be removed from the project and scheduled as a capital improvement project in the 2019 town budget.

Selectboard member Dr. Josh Dein asked if the project could still be covered by the bond because library volunteers fundraised so much.

Voters approved a bond of up to $6.5 million for the project in November 2017. Since then, volunteers have raised over $1 million for the project including $500,000 from an anonymous donor who pledged the sum last year to match donations with the goal of lowering the bond amount.

That match was met last week, and $600,000 was designated by library fundraisers  to offset  the bond. Fundraisers have said the remaining $400,000 will be added to the project’s total spending. The town is incrementally bonding as needed to pay for the project. It is expected to be completed by next summer 9.

Other news

  • In executive session, the board continued to work on details of an employment contract for Lee Krohn to become town manager.
  • The selectboard allocated $80,000 from the Open Space Fund to conserve a 48-acre portion of the Ewing Farmnear Shelburne Pond.
  • Krohn reported that Falls Road sewer-line work continues. The road will be closed until the middle of next week for paving. The project will then shut down for the winter.
  • The selectboard reviewed the contract with the Champlain Valley School District for the proposed school resource officer. Board members directed Krohn to have the town attorney also review it. Shelburne Police Officer Bob Lake told the board the department has a candidate in mind for the position, who could start as early as February.

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