Aldermen to finalize city police station plan Jan. 29

VERGENNES — Vergennes City Manager Mel Hawley on Wednesday said the city council must make a couple more decisions on their proposal for a new police station before it is ready for a Town Meeting Day vote.
Aldermen plan to meet on Jan. 29 to make final a bond amount and prepare a warning for residents’ approval in March, Hawley said, with it almost certainly intended to finance a 5,940-square-foot, 24-room station on the former North Main Street home of Vergennes Auto Sales.
Before aldermen meet on the 29th, Hawley said the council’s police station committee will gather one more time to make two final recommendations, one on whether to buy adjacent land from Vermont Industrial Parks, and the other on whether to add money to the bond request for contingencies. Either move would add to what is now a bottom line of just under $1.8 million.
“They need to do a couple things, for sure,” Hawley said.
Although aldermen have described the building as a “working plan,” Hawley acknowledged that they have not recently looked at any alternatives. He said at Tuesday’s council meeting one resident wondered about a more modest structure, but aldermen themselves did not entertain the idea.
“There was no discussion last night … about whether the building could be any smaller,” he said.
The $1.8 million price tag, as estimated by Middlebury’s Bread Loaf Corp., includes $1.15 million for the building itself; $240,000 for buying the land; $198,000 for site development, including utilities, curbing, paving, grading, landscaping and more; $80,000 for architectural and engineering fees; and another $110,000 for fixtures, legal fees, permits and other details.
Buying more land from Vermont Industrial Parks, a company related to J.P. Carrara & Sons, could cost up to $22,000 more, Hawley said. The Vermont Auto Sales parcel is less than an acre, and the committee must recommend and aldermen must decide whether it would be a good idea to buy a little more frontage and/or more land to the rear to allow for the future addition of a garage.
The more expensive question is whether a 10 percent project contingency — up to $180,000 — should be added.
Hawley believes the project is straightforward, and no contingency is needed.
“Bread Loaf is clear their estimates are very well-founded,” he said.
But Hawley also said “there was a lot of focus” during Tuesday’s council meeting on the contingency question, with resident Kevin Rooney, among others, arguing that a contingency fund is desirable because, in Hawley’s paraphrase, something always crops up during a project.
If the committee — Aldermen Renny Perry, Randy Ouellette and Ziggy Comeau; Hawley on an ex officio basis; Police Chief George Merkel and resident Christine Collette — decides to recommend a contingency, Hawley said the question of “on what?” will also come up: A 10 percent contingency does not necessarily have to be applied across-the-board to the bottom line, but could be applied selectively to elements that could be more likely to see questions or over-runs.
“You can take that 10 percent contingency and keep adjusting it downward,” he said.
If voters approve a bond between $1.8 and $2 million in March, and aldermen agree to hire Bread Loaf, which met with aldermen on Tuesday, Hawley said a new station could be operative this year.
“If it’s approved, then the building could be done by the end of November,” Hawley said.
Aldermen have not made final a decision, but Hawley said Bread Loaf’s design-build process ensures a cost-controlled result because every element in the project will be bid out.
“It’s a competitive process,” he said.
In other business on Tuesday, aldermen:
• Continued to discuss a formal policy on how to handle the city’s Water Tower Fund, which now has a balance of a little less than $80,000; the fund is owed another $35,700 by the opera house, and is fed by leases from cellphone companies who hang broadcast equipment on the city’s former water tower that total about $100,000 a year.
Aldermen made no decision, but reviewed a draft that would create a committee to make recommendations to the full council about fund allocations, which would be devoted to capital improvements that would benefit citizens, increase “livability,” focus on projects supported by the town plan, promote economic development, and/or be “leveraged with additional fund sources whenever possible.”
Hawley also cited the Water Tower Fund as a possible source for money if the police station did not have a contingency and then went over budget.
• Discussed a request from the Bixby Library board for a major increase in city support for the library, and decided to invite Bixby representatives to a future meeting.
• Met with representatives of the Vergennes Partnership and the Vergennes Opera House to hear updates on those organizations’ activities and financial health.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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