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Cost cuts necessary for NLPD facility plans

Bid exceeded project estimate by over $1 million
A concept illustration of the approved facility design for the North Liberty Police Department. The project is undergoing cost-cutting measures following a construction bid that exceeded the project estimates by over $1 million. (concept illustration by Police Facility Design Group)

NORTH LIBERTY– Enthusiasm for the future station of the North Liberty Police Department (NLPD) has been hampered by its construction bid, which has exceeded the project cost estimate by over $1 million. Parties directly involved in the project are looking for measures to cut $700,000, with additional funds necessary to fulfill the construction.

Project background

The North Liberty City Council unanimously approved initial plans, specifications and estimated cost for the Police Department Building Project during its Aug. 28 session.

An initial bid date was missed as drainage issues to the construction site were tended to, and project specifications gained second approval from the city council Oct. 9.

The new building will be constructed at the northeast corner of North Main Street and West Cherry Street, across from the fire station, and aims to provide officers a more fully-functioning facility. The Police Facility Design Group out of Kansas City, Mo., was selected last year to design the new station, the result of which was a single-story structure of approximately 16,000 square feet.

The new building is planned to provide individual office space, four interview rooms, a cyber crime room, a large multi-purpose/training space and a squad conference room among other features. Early projections expected the building to be operational by fall 2019; this has since been pushed back.

Bid evaluation

The police facility had a construction cost estimate of $4.2 to $4.5 million when initially put out to bid. On Nov. 1, the City of North Liberty received a bid from Tricon Construction Group of $5.56 million, over $1 million, or 23 percent, over budget.

“When that came in, I think we were all kind of taken aback, including the architect,” North Liberty City Administrator Ryan Heiar told the city council during its Dec. 11 session.

A Dec. 6 letter from James Estes, principal of the Police Facility Design Group, analyzed the high bid, detailed the building plan approach and evaluated how to move the project forward.

As the design construction drawings progressed, space needs deemed critical to the project long term increased the building size by 856 square feet to a final size of 16,257 square feet. The design group cited this as a contributor to the high bid cost, suggesting scaling back to around 15,400 to meet the estimate; the city, however, still plans to build a roughly 16,000 square foot facility.

The design group also noted police facility plans are usually scoped for a department’s needs in the next 20 years, but based on North Liberty’s rapid population growth, it calculated a facility approaching 20,000 square feet at a cost of at least $6.5 million. Given the targeted budget of $4.5 million for construction, the design group instead opted for a facility size to meet the department’s growth for the next 10 years.

The letter noted $274 per square foot as the average cost of a current police facility design and identified the “ever changing market demands” as the primary culprit for the higher-than-expected bid price.

Cost cutting

Following the high bid, the architect has been asked to find $700,000 in cuts to move the project forward. Heiar, NLPD Chief Diane Venenga and the design team have evaluated over 90 options to look for cost reductions.

“When we started that process, we asked them to look at absolutely everything, just at least so we had an idea,” Heiar noted.

One such idea requires not furnishing the planned multipurpose room, the largest room in the facility, and leaving a gravel floor. “Obviously that’s not something we’d want to do, but that gave us an idea of the kind of reduction we’d be looking at,” he added.

Frustratingly, according to the bid, said multipurpose room would cost an average of $350 per square foot, yet the aforementioned cutting would only save about $50 per square foot.

“It’s certainly just not cut and dry where we can go pick out things,” Heiar insisted. “There’s a lot of research and due diligence being done, not only by the chief but also by the architect.”

Another more obvious cut would be to covered patrol car parking, which would save about $225,000. Going from a rock exterior aesthetic to brick would also save about $103,000. While the entire building lobby was planned to have bullet-resistant paneling, the team is looking at reducing this for a storage room, interview room and galley for the multipurpose room, given their opaque walls. According to Chief Venenga, the paneling would not be removed from spaces divided by glass or the records room.

Venenga said while the large generator is costly, she hopes to find a more economically-sized option rather than cut it from the plans entirely.

Cuts to the exterior may include the Dubuque Street entrance; site piping, to be deferred until the City Hall project; and decorative fence to be replaced with black vinyl (except on Cherry Street), as well as using smaller lettering on the building and eliminating parking spaces. Additional cost-saving ideas to the interior include shrinking the sally port; eliminating doors, windows and glazing; reducing the number of bathrooms and/or substituting other plumbing fixtures; and removing interview rooms. Furnishings up for removal include a cast iron plaque, flag poles, fire extinguishers and AED cases.

Even with $700,000 in cost reductions, the project would require additional borrowed funding of $677,000. The goal is to have a contract and change order ready at the next city council meeting on Jan. 8. The city is hopeful for an operational facility by late 2019 or early 2020.

Potential NLPD facility cuts

• Dubuque Street entrance

• Covered squad car parking

• Rock building exterior (in exchange for brick)

• Multipurpose room flooring and furnishings

• Select windows, doors, restrooms and interview rooms

• Bullet-resistant paneling on select walls

• Generator