Project estimates for town office/gym are high, but Middlebury officials hopeful

MIDDLEBURY — Bread Loaf Corp. on Tuesday unveiled the first detailed cost estimates for a new Middlebury municipal building and recreation center, placing the combined costs of those two projects at $7,204,000 — a figure that is roughly $700,000 more than the current construction budget of $6.5 million.
But Bread Loaf officials are optimistic the projections will ultimately be able to fit within the spending target, through some cost cutting and by not having to dip too heavily into contingency funding that amounts to a combined total of $991,000.
“At an early stage, where we are right now, it is prudent to carry 10 percent contingency,” Bread Loaf project architect Chris Huston told members of the Middlebury Town Office & Recreation Facilities Steering Committee. “As the project goes forward, that contingency goes down to something like 5 percent, because then engineering is done, and the unknowns should be known at that point.”
The Middlebury selectboard earlier this year set an overall project budget of $7.5 million. But $1 million of that sum is to be used to clear the current municipal building/gym site at the intersection of College and South Main streets, and pay for the relocation of the Osborne House from 77 Main St. to a town-owned site off Cross Street. It is on the vacated 77 Main St. site that the new municipal building would be erected. The new recreation center would be built either off Mary Hogan Drive or off Creek Road (see related article, Page 1A).
Middlebury College has offered the town $5.5 million in project assistance in exchange for the current municipal building site and the Cross Street lot that would host the Osborne House. Current plans call for $1 million of those college proceeds to be used for site clearing and the Osborne House move, with the remaining $4.5 million to be pooled with $2 million in local taxpayers’ money to apply to construction of the two new buildings.
Huston on Tuesday presented preliminary cost estimates of $3,481,000 for the new, 9,308-square-foot town office building and $3,723,000 for the new, 11,507-square-foot recreation center.
Budget variables within the proposed town office project include:
•  $173,000 for site development.
•  $143,000 as the construction management fee.
•  A construction contingency (10 percent) of $253,000 and an owner contingency of $200,000. The construction contingency is intended to cover unanticipated price increases in materials, potential natural disasters and other things that could affect the building process. The owner contingency sets aside funds to deal with other potential unknowns related to the building site — such as if crews encounter unanticipated ledge deposits during excavation, according to Huston.
•  $2,391,000 in construction costs (excluding the contingency and construction management fee).
•  $100,000 for utility charges and related fees.
•  $75,000 for furniture, fixtures and equipment.
•  $25,000 for high-capacity shelving units.
•  $20,000 for all permits.
Individual line items within the proposed recreation center budget include:
•  $434,000 for site development.
•  A $163,000 construction management fee.
•  A construction contingency (10 percent) of $288,000 and an owner contingency of $250,000.
•  $2,713,000 in construction costs (minus the contingency and construction management fee).
•  $20,000 for permitting.
•  $25,000 for furniture, fixtures and equipment.
Scheduling a Town Meeting Day vote has added around $130,000 to the budget due to the need to do more of the construction during the winter, when costs are higher, according to Huston. Some town officials had pushed for a vote this month to produce less winter work and therefore get a cheaper price. But some citizens successfully argued that a December vote would not have allowed enough time for public input and planning.
The cost of burying utilities in and around the proposed town office site has also added around $100,000 to the project budget, Huston explained.
The latest estimates, according to Huston, reflect a town office project with a brick masonry exterior, as opposed to previous versions depicting clapboards and wood trim. Current plans for the recreation center call for a masonry/brick veneer exterior for the gymnasium portion of the structure.
Houston expects to see some eventual project savings through unspent contingency funds, adding the town could pare back on elements of both projects to derive further savings.
“We could move to a more cost-effective building,” he said, citing the recreation center as an example. Huston said the building could be re-designed with an insulated metal panel exterior supported by a steel structure.
“You could probably save a few hundred thousand dollars, but the question is, with the (adjacent) of other playfields on Creek Road, you would see plenty of foul balls from the Little League field, and that would certainly damage an insulated metal panel,” Huston warned.
The quality of insulation, mechanical systems and other elements could be sacrificed some to yield some additional savings, he added.
“Trying to strike a balance with quality and durability, this is where we are at this point,” Huston said.
Steering committee members Natalie Peters and John Barstow voiced some concerns about the roofing and verticality of the current town office building design. Huston said the design is in draft form at this point and will be revised and then re-evaluated by Middlebury’s Design Advisory Committee if the projects pass muster with the voters.
Huston said Bread Loaf will spend the coming weeks sharpening its budget pencil to bring down costs. It’s something the company can do well because it is tending to design, engineering and construction phases of the project, according to Huston.
“We’re an integrated company,” he said. “We are working closely with our vice president of estimating on this project, and he is looking at every available detail.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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