Municipal campus cost up by millions
Price tag for township complex rises from $8.5M to $11.5M
Plans for South Whitehall’s new municipal complex are moving ahead, but the estimated price tag for the work has ballooned by about $3 million, officials say.
Steven Carr, South Whitehall’s director of finance, recently told the commissioners he felt compelled to keep them up-to-date on the cost estimates based on the booming construction market, but hoped that the prices would tumble before bid materials go out in October.
“We really hope we catch the front end of these companies filling in their construction schedule,” Carr said. “But we wanted to give you a feel of the cost environment of today.”
When municipal officials presented the plans for a major renovation of the Walbert Avenue municipal campus in April, costs were estimated at about $8.5 million.
But Carr said square footage prices have climbed significantly in the interim, from $220 per square foot to $290 per square foot for renovation and from $275 per square foot to $350 per square foot for new construction. Now the project’s cost is hovering around $11.5 million.
As the design phase moves forward, Carr said professionals will have more specifics in hand for a truer pricing of the project.
Commissioners told Carr to keep them posted on the price tag, nothing that it was still early in the process. The elected officials indicated they’d want to see more specific estimates before making any major changes to the direction of the project.
Commissioners authorized $450,000 in unused capital funds for the new campus master plan project. The money, Carr explained, was for projects that have been delayed and now will be used to hire professionals and pay for permitting.
The need for a new municipal campus was laid out in very specific detail in April. Department heads described cramped offices where development plans were stuffed into every available inch of space, public works equipment was left in the elements and the police department shower regularly overflowed with sewage.
Commissioners gave the green light for massive renovations at the 46-year-old campus. The work will create a more efficient reception area for the public, larger meeting areas and will rework space for the police and public works departments. The plan also includes additional parking around the complex and in the rear of the Parkland Library, which is adjacent to the municipal building. The changes will be a big boost for safety since library visitors frequently park in illegal spaces in the front of the building, Carr said.
Ballooning construction costs have been making an impact on new school projects in what industry professionals say is one of the most competitive building seasons in years. Carr said a number of regional municipal projects is creating the same problem for townships and boroughs.
A shrinking construction workforce has coincided with a busy building period, allowing companies and vendors to raise prices and be pickier about which jobs they pursue.
Early bidding is the most frequently prescribed remedy for the issue. Experts say that’s the best way to lock in a lower price since companies have nothing on the schedule and can’t gamble on another booming construction season.
Carr said the officials involved in the South Whitehall project will be frugal, but not so much so that they lose sight of the goal.
“In watching this team work, I can tell you everyone is cost-conscious,” Carr told commissioners. “But they also understand that we want to make this project last into the future.”