By Jean Cole
Costs for the new Athens-Limestone Public Library, which is under construction off Jefferson Street in Athens, had one City Council member worried this week.
Councilman Joseph Cannon, who represents residents in District 4, raised the concern during a work session Monday in which the council was discussing $234,383 in change orders for the library.
Mayor Ronnie Marks asked the council to approve paying the change orders, which resulted due to unforeseeable site conditions, including bad soil, removal of some exterior brick and a retaining wall off the railroad tracks. In approving the change orders, the mayor said the council was not agreeing to spend any more than the $1.1 million the city originally pledged for the library project. The change orders simply required council approval as well as approval from the Limestone County Commission, which commissioners discussed Thursday.
The mayor also asked the council to release $89,869 in money earmarked for Phase II of the library project during the current Phase I work. Marks said the money needed to be released now because the work will add value to the project and save money because the workers needed are already on-site. He said the council would not be spending any additional money but, rather, allowing Phase II money to be spent during Phase I.
The mayor said the change orders, which represent a 10 percent overrun, are within reason for such a project. He said the Limestone County Courthouse annex change orders ran 12 percent and the Limestone County Jail change orders ranged from 10 to 15 percent. He said overruns for old buildings are typically 10 to 15 percent.
Nevertheless, the request to spend Phase II money during Phase I made at least one council member uneasy.
“I hope we are not heading down a 20-20 hindsight situation,” Cannon said. To which the mayor replied, “Not as far as the building is concerned, but the operations costs will always be an issue for this community.”
Marks then suggested the Library Foundation, which is amid a $6.1 million fundraising drive for the library, “use some of the Foundation money to offset the operating costs (once the library is built).”
Despite the unforeseeable costs associated with the change orders, Marks said the decision to use an existing building for the library makes it an excellent value at $71.37 per square foot for the 37,900-square-foot building. Phase 1 of a new building would have cost $135 or more per square foot, he said. He said the city is monitoring all spending and “did not see zero out of line that did not need to be done.”
The mayor asked the council to add the item to Monday’s regular meeting agenda. The council agreed and voted 5-0 to approve the change orders and the spending of some Phase II money in Phase I.