bcdm pledges to stand by the city
After delivering a verbal spanking to its consulting engineers for underestimating the cost of Project AWAYSIS to the tune of millions of dollars, the Storm Lake City Council has voted unanimously to award the contracts for the lodge hotel and waterpark, a pivotal step to make AWAYSIS a reality.
"This is a great day for the future of Storm Lake. We are undertaking the biggest project ever undertaken in this city," said Mayor Jon Kruse.
"I'm getting pumped up. I'm excited. We've been talking about this for two or three years... This thing is going to happen."
Of late, that talk has mainly centered on some dollar signs followed by shockingly large numbers.
To be specific - $15,704,087, the low bid for the lodge hotel from McHan Construction of Sioux City; and $6,735,000, the low bid for the waterpark from Christiansen Construction of Pender, Neb.
While the city leaders "pulled the trigger" to okay the project last fall, Monday's decisions ultimately make it a reality, said Mike Wilson, project director for the city.
"We asked ourselves if this could ever really happen here, and today, you are answering that question," Wilson told the council. "This is the opportunity of a lifetime."
On the lodge project, McHan outbid the only competition, Woodruff Construction from Fort Dodge, and projecting completion at the end of May, 2007, would also finish slightly quicker.
McHan's bid is for a 101-room hotel. The city originally planned 80 rooms, but found that with more rooms, the development will pay for itself more quickly. With the conference center, restaurant and lobby somewhat larger than first planned, the additional rooms should help spread the cost of those public areas, Wilson said, adding that Leisure Management, the firm chosen to run the lodge for the city, prefers the larger number of rooms to better market for conferences and group events.
Also, fiberglass is being substituted for wood in doors and windows, acyclic will replace steel in bathroom fixtures, and grey concrete will be substituted for colored concrete.
Still, the low lodge bid exceeded the architect' estimate by nearly $3 million, a situation which clearly upset city leaders.
Mayor Kruse told representatives of the Omaha landscape architectural firm bcdm that he is "very disappointed" with their performance in estimating cost.
Councilman Denny Vaudt also had words for the firm. "This is what we pay you an awful lot of money to do. To miss by 33 percent - that's almost unacceptable. I've never heard of a project of this magnitude being estimated that far off. I hope and pray that when we are done we will have a great project to be proud of - but right now, I am disappointed."
Officials of bcdm told the council that they are hopeful costs can be cut as the lodge project moves forward. Vaudt questioned that approach. "After the fact, it is pretty difficult. Now we're at the contractors' mercy. How are we going to get that money back?"
One of the firm's partners said he would decline to go into that, for fear it would hurt the firm's chances of negotiating with the builders.
"I will take that as an answer, but I'll tell you - it is disconcerting," Vaudt responded.
Wilson smoothed the situation somewhat. "It is easy to second-guess now. We've never built a project of this size," he said.
Council member Julie Egland added that is may be difficult for people who have never served on a board that has tackled a major public building project to understand the situation the council is in.
The original estimate was for an 80-room lodge. Other factors causing the lowball estimate, according to bcdm, include rising costs of structural steel, utilities, carpet/paint and other finishing materials, and especially a high cost in the area of mechanicals and electrical.
Wilson added that the cost of contractors and subcontractors coming from a distance may be adding to the pricetags. "You would think it would be more expensive to build a project like this in Des Moines or Sioux City than in Storm Lake, but we are finding that may not be the case," he said.
Jim Dennell, a partner in bcdm, noted that the firm's projects in Des Moines are coming in below estimate - in the case of one recent school construction - a million bucks under his firm's budget.
Now that contracts are being inked, city staff and bcdm can work with the contractors to try to trim down the costs, but Wilson said no concessions would be made that would reduce the overall quality of the lodge building or impact the guest experience.
"We have great hope to see some savings," Dennell told the council. "Unfortunately, we don't have a crystal ball. We put down what we thought would be normal, and we were 100 percent off."
Wilson said he is pleased with the reaction of bcdm, and that the firm is taking the cost gap as seriously as the city is.
David Ciaccio of bcdm, who originally drew up the AWAYSIS concept and was referred to as the "Godfather" of the project, said he well understands the council's frustrations. He said members of his firm have lost sleep and invested hundreds of additional hours since the bidding to determine what went wrong.
"Whatever it takes to keep this team moving forward, you have my personal commitment. After three years, we are not going to let anyone down now. This project is going to change Storm Lake."
Vaudt noted that as the project goes forward, the city and its consulting architects will have to get along. Vaudt said he is familiar with McHan's work and is very confident in them.
Whatever the city and its representatives do, Vaudt said that what he is hearing from the public is not to reduce the quality of the project. "I hope we're over the rough bumps," he said.
Council member Jim Treat said the city only has two choices - "to stand fast or to move forward."
Each decision came on unanimous votes.
The lodge contract will call for substantial completion of the project by May 31, 2007.
The waterpark contract calls for completion by June 2, 2007. Christiansen has been so eager to begin work that they have moved in equipment and set up fencing at their own risk even before the city agreed to a contract. Crew were expected to begin construction today or Wednesday on the waterpark.
The city also approved some price concessions on the waterpark project, ranging from $150,000 cut from costs by Splashtacular, the company that manufactures the water slides, to a $4,400 concession from Christiansen in exchange for a plaque recognizing the company on the project site.
Total price reductions are about $263,000, reducing the expected waterpark price to $6,471,780.
Mayor Kruse said the last couple of months have been the hardest in the AWAYSIS process. On behalf of the council, he thanked Wilson, city staff and other players for their dedication to the project.
Wilson said that it has been easy to get lost in the frustrations of recent weeks, but that the setbacks should not be discouraging.
"This is where we have been headed for three years. We have things to fix... we are not home free. There are important decisions to be made. But it is going to be a lot of fun to see this project going up now."