Changes, delays escalate cost of Edgartown library project


A combination of delays, indecision, an ill-fated property purchase, a previously scrapped project, and a late change in direction for Edgartown’s current library project will be costly for taxpayers.

The latest escalation in costs comes from the shift from North Water Street to the old Edgartown School as a building site. Architects must essentially begin again, the project manager is performing more services, and the school location requires extra site work.

The Edgartown library design committee approved $85,730 in costs directly related to the shift in sites, at its meeting Tuesday.

The committee also received a preliminary cost estimate of a library on the old school site, based on the 14,620 square foot size of the now-abandoned plan for North Water Street. To build the same size library at the school site would cost $9.2 million. After projected reimbursement from state grants, taxpayers and private donors would need to contribute $4.2 million.

No return

Taxpayers will get no return on their investment for money already spent on architectural plans and much of the administrative work on the North Water Street site.

After voting on October 29 to focus on the current library location, the library design committee began to form consensus around plans expanding the historic Carnegie building with new additions, totaling 14,620 square feet. That plan envisioned complete demolition of the Warren House, to make way for a 16-space parking lot abutting North Water Street.

When the Edgartown Historic District Commission took a position at its December 7 meeting that the Warren House must not be demolished, the architect pared the parking scheme back to only six spaces. There was much concern about grant funding, because the plan fell far short of several state guidelines for library construction.

On December 14, Massachusetts Board Of Library Commissioners signaled strong objections to the library plan in an informal meeting with committee members. Faced with the prospect of a proposal viewed unfavorably by the state officials who decide which towns get grant funding, the design committee rescinded its October vote, and shifted its focus to the school site at its December 16 meeting.

That will mean added costs. Imrey Culbert, the architectural firm hired to design the library, initially negotiated a $60,000 fee. The firm produced several iterations of a design for the North Water Street site, as well as a preliminary drawing for renovation of the old Edgartown School as a new library.

Now the design committee is working on a plan to demolish the old school building, and build a new library from the ground up. That will require an entirely new design that will more than double the architect’s fee. Imrey Culbert has negotiated an additional fee of $65,000 for the new design. Adding to the extra costs is an accelerated design schedule. Imrey Culbert staff will need to work holidays and overtime to complete the design by January 23, the deadline for the grant application.

Privately, several members of the committee say the firm makes a strong case that it has done the work as originally contracted, and with the change of sites the committee has directed her to embark on an entirely new project.

But some design committee members have grumbled about the architect’s fees. The committee did not have new plans from architect Celia Imrey in time for Tuesday’s meeting. “It frustrates me that she’s been sitting a week and not doing anything, and still charging what she’s charging us,” Mr. Feeney said at the meeting.

Design committee member Larry Mercier said the committee’s October vote to focus exclusively on the North Water Street was costly. “That would have been avoided if we hadn’t voted to abandon the school property,” Mr. Mercier said in a phone conversation with The Times. “The (original) contract calls for two schematics, one for the school, and one for the Carnegie. If we had done both schematics in the beginning, we would have only accepted one of them. Now we’re paying extra.”

Also adding to the cost of shifting sites is the work of project manager Rick Pomroy. Mr. Pomroy oversees the design process, advises the committee, and acts as its representative in dealing with architects and other contractors.

His initial fee was for $36,785. The extra scope of his work in shifting to the school site will cost the town an additional $20,730.

The design and administrative work done so far is still well below the amount authorized by taxpayers. At the April town meeting, voters approved $300,000 to produce new library plans. Mr. Pomroy projects the committee will spend $211,807 of that appropriation, even with the extra costs associated with the change in sites.

Rising rates

Other factors will increase the cost of the library project at the school site, beginning with extra site work. The design committee Tuesday authorized $3,105 for a hazardous materials study of the school site. A geological survey to determine soil conditions will cost $6,198. A site survey will cost $6,348.

A cost comparison estimates the abandoned North Water Street project at $8,799,755. The comparison estimates that to build the same size library at the school site will cost $9,201,577, before subtracting any state grants, charitable contributions, or taxpayer appropriation. The difference in the total cost of the two projects is $401,822. However, design committee members expect the architect to submit plans for a larger building, to take advantage of extra space at the school site. That will likely increase the cost differential. For example, an increase of 600 square feet would add $219,768 to the cost of the project, according to preliminary estimates.

Design committee member Chris Scott pointed out at Tuesday’s meeting, that the two cost estimates do not represent a choice the committee must make.

“In my mind, comparing them is almost moot,” Mr. Scott said. “The other one (North Water Street) can’t be done anyway.”

Building on the school site will eliminate the cost of a temporary library facility, and moving to that facility. The project manager budgeted $80,000 for that expense. But the extra services and costs needed for the school site outpace those savings.

For example, the estimated budget includes an increase of $80,000 to deal with mitigation of hazardous materials, including asbestos, in the old school building. The committee budgets an extra $90,000 for demolition.

The extra site work at the school site increases the estimated cost per square foot, which inflates contingencies and construction escalation costs factored into the budget.

The comparison projects $4,967,788 in reimbursement from state grants. That would leave $4,233,788 to be funded by some combination of taxpayer appropriation and private donations. “Doing the project is predicated on getting the grant,” Mr. Mercier said. “If we don’t get that, we don’t get a library.”

Warren House

The Capt. Warren House, purchased in 2005 by authorization of voters for $3.5 million, is now in a deteriorated condition, and it is unlikely it will ever be used as a library. With the decline in Island property values, town officials and library design committee members anticipate taking a loss of approximately $2.2 million on the property, if it can be sold to a private buyer.

The town bought the property near the peak of a boom in property values. Voters approved the $3.5 million expenditure by a vote of 438 to 172 at an August 2004 special town meeting. The article was included in the warrant by petition. The funds would have counted toward the amount matched by state grants.

The library project proceeded with plans to incorporate the historic structure into the design of the new library.

Within a year, however, it was apparent that the structural condition of the building was not suited for a library. Civil engineer John Lolly estimated that renovating the building for library use would be twice as expensive as tearing it down and constructing a new building. The town acquired permits to demolish the Warren House, and replace it with a modern building that included a historically accurate façade.

The town proposed a number of alternative uses for the building, including affordable housing and historic preservation, but no agency was willing to take on the expensive project.

Though it has remained vacant for nearly six years, the town must make two yearly payments on the bond that financed the Warren House purchase. After its next payment on January 1, 2011, the town will have paid $2,149,100 in interest and principal, according to an analysis done by Mr. Mercier. It will still owe a total of $2,766,450 over the life of the bond that is due in 2024.

Mr. Mercier estimates if the town could sell the Warren House for approximately $2 million before its July 1 payment is due, it could pay off the bond, saving $741,450 in interest payments.

Selectmen have signaled an initial willingness to use proceeds of a Warren House sale toward a new library.

More cost lost

A separate library expansion project begun in 2004 also involved appropriations and donations for architectural plans and administrative work that is now lost.

According to figures presented to the town finance and advisory committee last year, architects and contractors billed Edgartown a total of $334,796 in 2005 and 2006. The funds covered a feasibility study and two sets of architectural drawings. Taxpayers authorized $39,100 for the work. Another $20,000 game from a state grant. The remainder, $275,696, came from private donations raised by the Edgartown Library Foundation.

The town scrapped those plans late last year, when private fund-raising efforts fell far short of their goal, forcing the town to forego $4.6 million in state funding already approved.