Civic Center Project
If everything went according to plan, right now, I would be writing this Blog from my office in a temporary trailer adjacent to the Caltrain right-of-way listening to the contractor demolish the existing City Hall and hearing the familiar, and now even closer and louder whistle, of the train horn through the Atherton Station. As wonderful as that may have been, it did not come to pass. In May 2018, the bid climate proved spectacularly higher than anticipated and the number of pre-qualified bidders that opted to bid on the project dwindled to 2, with the remaining 5 dropping out because they were just simply too busy. The lower bid of the two submitted was nearly 40% higher than the base estimates for the project. There was no way that the City Council could award the contract given the amount of available funding. Both bids were rejected and the Council took the project back to the table for some value engineering.
The construction budget for the Library was set at $16.5 million, inclusive of a built-in contingency - $11.8 million for the building and $4.7 million for the associated site work. The construction budget for the Administration and Police Department Building was set at $24 million - $17.2 million for the building and $6.8 million for the necessary site work. Together, the construction budget was $40.5 million, including the necessary site work to realign the roadways, upgrade the required parking and upgrade the utilities. The Council established another $4 million in market/bid contingency on top of that total just in case. Nevertheless, the low bid far exceeded the $40 million base estimate target and came in at $56 million - $16 million out of reach. Granted, you could break that down to the percentage of project for each building and allocate $6.6 million overage to the Library and $9.4 million to the Administration and Police Department Building; but it still doesn’t help. While the Library has informally advised that they would be willing to consider advancing tax funds based on future year Library-fund surplus expectations (after value engineering the existing facility as much as feasible), the Administration and Police Department facilities, the Town, is not so fortunate to have those available surpluses to advance. A $9.4 million gap must be addressed by some combination of short-term gap funding, fundraising, and value engineering.
Library Value Engineering
Value engineering looks at the various ways that the project can be adjusted to bring it closer to an identified cost target. The Project Team is looking at the various building systems such as exterior assemblies, superstructure, windows, glazing, exterior materials, mechanical systems, plumbing systems, electrical systems, site work, decks, planting, irrigation, fencing, furnishings, interior materials, casework, square footage, and phasing options to find ways to adjust the project without compromising its functionality.
The Team has identified more than $8.8 million in potential cost adjustments for the Library. Not all of these will be selected by the Council as some significantly impact the functionality of the Library, but the Team’s job was to identify ways to meet the cost target. Some of the more significant cost adjustments are:
- Deferral of the renovation of Historic Town Hall. This renovation was designed to bring the Historic Town Hall up to current seismic requirements and renovate the space to be used as a community room for the Library. The potential cost adjustment by deferring this renovation was $1.8 million but results in the loss of a community gathering space for Library programs.
- Removal of Adult Reading and Meeting Spaces. Another significant adjustment was the removal of the Adult Reading and Meeting Spaces by removing more than 1,610 square feet. This adjustment would save another $1.5 million but would limit the amount of reading and gathering space designed for adults in the Library.
- Deletion of Exterior Gathering Spaces. The next significant set of adjustments related to exterior spaces and eliminated all of the exterior gathering spaces (decks and shade garden, fencing, furnishings, and plantings). This resulted in a potential savings of another $1.0 million but has a significant impact on the exterior look and feel of the Library.
- Reduction in the quality and efficiency of Building Systems. The Library was designed as an energy and environmentally efficient model building. The Building was designed with photovoltaic panels, a Microgrid for energy storage, energy efficient lighting and ventilation and other features striving to reach LEED Certification. Removal of some of these features represented a savings of approximately $1.8 million and increased the annual operating cost of the Library.
- Exterior Windows & Glazing. The Library was also designed with windows and doors with superior glazing for energy efficiency and indoor/outdoor spaces. Changing these systems to a more typical commercial-grade look and eliminating indoor/outdoor space access represented a savings of approximately $900,000.
- Rammed Earth Wall. One of the primary features of the Library was its exterior rammed earth wall along the east frontage. The wall was designed to insulate the Library saving on heating and cooling costs as well as to provide acoustic support for the interior of the Library. A final feature of the wall was its ability to eliminate the need for interior columns that would artificially divide up the interior space and limit its functionality. Building a traditional wall would require interior columns throughout the building, additional insulation, and an increased ventilation system; but, it would save approximately $900,000.
These are some of the big items being considered by the Council and the County Library as we decide on the value engineering options for the Library Building. Once the options are selected, the Council will task the project architect with the redesign. The Council established a goal of getting the buildings back out to bid by January 2019.
Administration and Police Department Value Engineering
The Library was designed as a LEED Certified Building and many of its features were upgrades to traditional systems in order to meet that objective. The return on investment for these features, such as photovoltaic panels, Microgrid, water systems, walls, lighting, windows and ventilation systems were such that the Library operational costs would be reduced and the Town would realize a savings over time. The Library also had a number of fit and finish fixtures that were elevated above normal commercial construction quality. All of these features were also an easy target during value engineering as they could be easily identified for savings in construction. The Administration and Police Department building was not so lucky. While the exterior of the building was designed to be a “neighborhood fit” and not look like a commercial building dropped in the middle of a residential neighborhood, the square footage and interior of the building was cost-effectively designed. Identification of a target $8-$10 million value engineering solution was much harder.
Nevertheless, the Team has begun working on that same task with the same objective: look at the various ways that the project can be adjusted to bring it closer to an identified cost target without compromising its base functionality. Some of the more significant issues being reviewed:
- Essential Services Building Standards and the Lobby. State Building Codes require that public safety facilities be built to “Essential Services” standards for construction. That basically means that the infrastructure materials of the building must be built to a higher standard than traditional buildings. This is one of the factors that result in the higher cost to build a police station versus a traditional building. One of the issues that arose is because the police building and administration building are connected by a lobby area, the administration and lobby side of the facility must also be built to that higher standard unless there is a seismic joint between the two facilities. This is being examined by the Team to evaluate retaining the lobby and adding a seismic joint or removing the lobby and either turning administration into a 1-story building versus maintaining a 2-story building with an additional elevator or smaller seismic joint and a walkway between the 2nd stories. This consideration is one of the more significant issues as it contemplates removing the lobby entirely. This could represent a savings of $1.0 million.
- Corporation Yard Fencing/Paving/Canopies. One of the features of the project was to renovate the exterior spaces of the corporation yard so that they remain screened from public view and provide adequate staff parking off of the campus public spaces. Canopies were being provided to shield storage of materials and provide for the potential future use of solar on the site. This is proposed for elimination at a potential savings of $840,000.
- Heating and Ventilation Systems. One of the features of the “campus” design was that the Town could leverage the use of campus systems (Library and Town Hall) for a savings of operational costs across the campus versus a specific building. By eliminating these systems in the Library, the Town would have to add back a system for the Administration and Police Building at a cost of $572,000.
- Deferral of the Council Chambers. With the renovation of the existing Historic Town Hall as a community room for the Library, the Project was designed to add a new Council Chambers that would also serve as the Town’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC). The Town currently uses the Public Works Building (to be demolished) as an EOC. An EOC is a central location from which the Town’s emergency response personnel operate 24/7 and directs emergency response. If the Town’s EOC is activated (think earthquake, flood, regional fires, evacuations, train derailment, plane crash, etc.), its function is to facilitate the life safety and protection of property, overall management and coordination of emergency operations, coordination with appropriate Federal, State and regional agencies, management of mutual-aid, establishment of government and community action plans, and coordination of public information. The EOC is not solely police and fire, the EOC is representatives from Administration, Finance, Building, Planning, Public Works, Police, Fire, Water, Sewer, Rail, Utilities, etc. all in one room coordinating a local response and engaging regional agencies to protect local life safety and property. It’s part of our role - and my role as the Director of Emergency Services for the Town - to imagine all of the worst case scenarios that could occur and plan and train on how to respond. Deferral of the Council Chambers could save approximately $1.7 million but eliminates the Town’s EOC and forces the City Council and all Committees and Commissions to meet off campus (likely at the Park) until the Council Chambers is built at some future date.
The Library was first up for value engineering so the Administration and Police Department Building is a couple weeks behind on the task - a much harder task. Aside from the Lobby, new Council Chambers, and overall building circulation (hallways, elevator, etc.), the interior spaces of the building were designed to closely mirror the square footage of the current distributed campus. Further, because the current facility was built more than 50 years ago, the minimum requirements for space has increased - restroom facilities, ADA, elevators, stairwells, emergency ingress/egress, etc. - making it more challenging to fit the same functionality into the same footprint. There is simply very little surplus to work with and reduce. That said, the Team is working on it and will be presenting updates to the City Council on a regular basis with the same goal in mind - get the options selected and task the project architect with the redesign to get back out to bid by January 2019.
Thanks for reading!
Town of Atherton