SoBu Spaces 2020: Council Looks for Reductions in $21 Million Preliminary Price Tag

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Thursday July 19, 2018

The community, city staff, library board and Wiemann Lamphere Architects have been at work creating a design for the highly anticipated public library/senior center/city hall, proposed to be located on Market Street in City Center. A conceptual design was finally reached and a resolution supporting the design was presented to the council Monday night by the Chair of the Recreation and Parks Committee Jennifer Kochman and the Vice Chair of the Library Board of Trustees Stacy Pape. Architect Steve Roy and Project Director Ilona Blanchard were also on hand to deliver a presentation on the latest work related to the project including design elements and preliminary cost estimates.

Roy, of Wiemann Lamphere, explained that his team is currently focusing on material selection and finishes and where use of the higher end finishes would truly shine, such as on the ground floor lobby and corridor. As Roy moved through a slide presentation, he pointed out high cost vs. lower investment areas. He highlighted the special seating areas, nooks, and furniture elements as well as the fireplace in the quiet reading room that the public expressed were top priorities.

In addition to design features, energy efficiency throughout the building was highlighted via the use of 220 kw solar panels and was seen as favorable for long term energy use and ultimate cost savings. Roy touted the fact that via this method as well as geothermal heating and cooling, the building could utilize very little in terms of fossil fuels.

While the architects are still working with Engelberth Construction to refine cost estimates, Blanchard presented an initial figure of $21,400,527 for the proposed project. After $180,000 in highway impact fees are subtracted and the Blanchette Funds of $350,000 are considered, the cost comes in at $20,870,527. Blanchard walked through a financial plan that projected cost assumptions through 2040, plugging in numbers for TIF funding and a general obligation bond. But $20.8 million was a tough number for councilors who were expecting something in the $17 million range.

Given the high figure, Roy also showed where cuts to design features and function could be made as well as cost savings that the city could explore that would ultimately reduce the value of the building, such as eliminating solar. Some of the proposed cuts could include changing counter surfaces to less expensive materials, removing the stairs to the roof, removing the skylight over the library, eliminating fireplaces, and not seeking LEED certification.

Councilors were in support of the concept, but want to find a way to get the cost down without compromising the “wow factor” of the building. Councilor Chittenden said that while he supports the concept, he also felt it was important to not only cut costs but explain to the public why a new city hall is necessary. Council Chair Riehle added that the building “can’t be made like every other building...we would lose the excitement and interest of the public. There need to be some nice, special materials in certain spots that adds to that.” Riehle reflected on the importance of using natural elements that reflected Vermont’s unique characteristics.

Efforts to identify savings for the interior design are already in the works, but details about the footprint of the building came under question by Cindy Reed of Cathedral Square and Chris Snyder of Snyder Braverman, in regard to their Allard Square project which is adjacent to the proposed site. They expressed an interest in meeting with city staff and architects to discuss concerns about the site design in regard to access to their garage, easements for stormwater and other issues, noting that it may be difficult to make modifications once the resolution is passed.

More information on parking and potential reductions in features will continue to be discussed at future meetings.

SOURCE: Corey Burdick,Correspondent