Community Commons planning still moving forward
After months of input, ideas and planning involving numerous stakeholders, the next decisions on the future of the Community Commons property will be in the hands of a much smaller group.
After hearing a summary of a renovation cost estimate report from Leo A Daly facilitator Cindy McCleary, New Richmond School District Administrator Jeff Moberg signaled an intention to meet with a smaller number of key decision-makers to plot out the course for the project’s future. He suggested a “task force” that would include himself representing the school district, City Administrator Mike Darrow representing the city, Friday Memorial Library Director Kim Hennings representing the library and Morrie Veilleux representing the Commons partners.
The mood at the meeting was somber as McCleary’s report showed a total cost estimate of more than $22 million to renovate the Commons building, not including costs for new construction of a community library at the site. But McCleary was careful to point out that the cost estimates included the total project cost of renovations, not just hard costs of bricks and mortar construction.
“Soft costs are costs that are required to get a project done beyond bricks and mortar,” McCleary said. “Architects are a soft cost. So are engineers, permits, hazardous material abatement, furniture, technology and AV types of things. Those are real costs to a project, so we intentionally roll those into the project cost.”
Of course, the biggest cost areas involved the building’s aging infrastructure, and McCleary’s report highlighted several big ticket infrastructure costs that would be likely be needed for a major renovation. Among the summary of infrastructure concerns listed in the report were a plumbing system that is beyond its useful life, substandard fire suppression sprinkler systems and standpipes, water service hookup from the street that wouldn’t offer enough capacity during a fire emergency, technology and security systems that are beyond their useful life, a boiler that is well beyond its useful life, and electrical distribution and lighting systems that are beyond their useful life. She also mentioned building envelope restoration of bricks, windows and doors that would likely be necessary. McCleary said that many of the upgrades would be required to meet modern building codes.
“With any significant renovation, you have to bring those things up to code,” McCleary said.
She estimated that renovating any more than 20 percent of the building would begin to trigger various code flags.
McCleary also shared a summary of assumptions she used when calculating the cost estimates. Among those assumptions were meeting code, meeting program needs, meeting ADA compliance requirements, completing deferred maintenance anticipated within eight years of the renovation, and being able to operate the facility at some level during construction.
“Philosophically, I believe the architect’s role is to advise you both of what’s needed for code and also what’s needed for best practices, and what we really, truly believe you need for the full building cost,” McCleary said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t get it for cheaper. You’ll make some choices on what you’re willing to delay for construction now, or some choices about quality, or some choices about square footage.”
Anticipating the question of whether the cost estimates assumed a grandiose renovation with high-end finishes, McCleary offered a pre-emptive response.
“It’s not a Taj Mahal, but it is my responsibility to make sure you don’t have to come back eight years from now and do it again,” McCleary said.
Stanton Town Chairman Dick Hesselink suggested doing the renovation in phases to break up the amount of funds needed up front from projects that could be tackled in subsequent years. McCleary cautioned that renovating some parts without renovating others could create gaps in heating and cooling, plumbing and electrical systems that the entire building depends on. For example, demolition in the original 1926 portion of the building would leave the building without a boiler.
“The numbers hit you right in the face,” Moberg said. “I think we’re nervous because deferred maintenance can only be deferred for so long. At some point, the bill comes due. Granted, if the building sat here, the full $22 million wouldn’t come due, but the boilers are a sizeable chunk of that and the roof is sizeable chunk of that. Those are things that do have a limited shelf life. They’re not going to operate forever.”
Others present had questions about the amount of deferred maintenance that could continue to be deferred. McCleary pointed to the lengthy list of major infrastructure items that are already beyond or approaching their end of useful life.
One suggestion from the audience was to demolish the entire building and build a new one instead of renovating the old structure. Pros for that option include having a building that more closely meets program needs, and is more cost effective to operate and maintain.
Another wrinkle in the decision-making is $500,000 of grant funding from the Wisconsin Department of Administration Division of Housing’s Community Development Block Grant program. The City of New Richmond applied for the funding last summer, and it was awarded. But those funds — normally only for shovel-ready projects — will likely be forfeited because the Commons project is still nowhere near ready for construction. New Richmond Mayor Fred Horne said that those funds would probably be going back once the City Council discusses the matter at its April 13 meeting.
Meanwhile, Moberg hopes an initial meeting of the task force he intends to assemble will take place within the next 30 days.
“Let’s get the smaller group together, present back to all the groups with a more definitive concept, then start putting costs behind that,” Moberg said. “I think until we do that, looking at $22 million, it’s something that we’re not going to do unless somebody’s really, really ambitious here. We’ll get the concept whittled down and then decide if it’s something we can do.”
Before adjourning, another GEN meeting was set up for 7 p.m. on Monday, April 27.