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Looking for options to cut costs while maintaining quality

County supervisors tackle a $138,000 shortfall in the BHUCC construction estimate

IOWA CITY– Planning continues for Johnson County’s Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center (BHUCC), a one-stop shop for acute substance abuse and behavioral health situations, to be built near the intersection of South Gilbert Street and Southgate Avenue in Iowa City. The county purchased the land one year ago at a cost of $1,350,000. An existing structure was demolished and removed earlier this year.
Project Manager Pat Miller presented construction cost estimates to the Johnson County Board of Supervisors at its Wednesday, June 12, work session. Miller’s estimate sat at $10,032,442, which included the cost of the land acquisition. Subtracting that amount produces a revised construction estimate of $8,682,442 with $8,544,141 in funding pledged by municipalities, the county and various organizations for a $138,301 shortfall.
Supervisor Rod Sullivan said he wanted Neumann-Munson, the architectural firm, to come in for a discussion on where the county might be able to save some money on the project.
“My guess is with a couple of these things, they’re making some assumptions. And in some cases they’re probably going with near top-of-the-line, and in other cases they’re going with somewhat average materials. There may be some opportunities to just ‘value engineer’ this down a little bit.”
Miller said he believes Neumann-Munson is planning on the same materials used in Cross Park Place in Iowa City (a demonstration project for the State of Iowa formed by the Collaboration Committee of the Johnson County Local Homeless Coordinating Board providing housing opportunities for the chronically homeless). “It’s durable, it’s going to last, but it’s not like super expensive,” he said. Miller said he met with the architects the day before.
“We came up with some possible things that we can cut out of this that would still give us essentially the building we want,” he noted, and presented several options to the supervisors for cutting costs for the facility, based on different categories.

Overall size
Miller said the supervisors could cut out, for now, the “shell” (unfinished) space that was planned for future expansion for a savings of $210-290,000. “That’s your biggest bang for the buck,” said Miller. Also, the winter shelter could be reduced by approximately 850 square feet, he explained. Doing so wouldn’t reduce the shelter itself, but rather planned storage space. Miller said he’s heard from winter shelter operators, “That’s not a good idea.”
The supervisors agreed.
“With all due respect to them (the architects,) this isn’t my first rodeo,” Sullivan said. “There’s a way you do this, and so, you lead off with the thing they know we want most, which is the size. OK, I get that. I don’t want to reduce the size.”

Miller moved on to another category, that being energy efficiency (“performance”). He said the architects are looking at going above and beyond the building code for insulation to make the facility “highly (energy) efficient.” He suggested having people modeling the energy efficiency look into how the structure would perform “at code.” However, he did not have a cost estimate for the study. He noted they would be meeting on Tuesday, July 2, at which time he would have a clearer picture for the Board. Sullivan again objected based on the desire for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, which spells out specific requirements for energy efficiency and sustainability among other environmentally friendly criteria.

One significant cost, Miller said, is the use of bullet-resistant glass in the lobby. Miller explained the building will have a secured entrance with the special glass. “You could cut that out and just have it be regular glass and save $35,000. “We also threw in a few anti-ligature (suicide prevention) provisions,” Miller said. “We tried not to go overboard with what we were doing, like with shatter-proof glass in some of the areas. Some specific pull bars we have in the public restrooms, and drywall that’s resistant to cracking or being tampered with.” Removing those provisions, he said, would save approximately $29,000.
Reducing the amount of glass in the entryway would also generate a cost savings, according to Miller. Throughout the planning process, he said, it was made clear that a clear line-of-sight through the facility was desired. Reducing the glass would potentially block some of the unobstructed view, he noted.

Reducing “niceness”
Miller said again, the architects tried not to go above and beyond the basic requirements for the facility, but, “there is one piece, what they’re calling ‘fancy acoustical panels,’ in some of the areas, just so it doesn’t look so institutionalized, it’s got more of a design on it, it’s more ‘homey,’ I guess.” Replacing them with something more basic would save $30,000.
“Again, I respect these guys, but there’s a method to their madness,” Sullivan said.
Miller also suggested reducing the cost of the metal siding panels. He said there may have been a misunderstanding of what was desired, and said the siding at Cross Park Place was $100,000 less. “So that’s a potential savings there.”

In order to maintain LEED certification, storm water management, including certain plantings in the retention basins, needs to be retained. However, some features for an outdoor respite patio could be curtailed, and fewer trees could be planted for a cost savings as well.
Supervisor Pat Heiden agreed with Sullivan that some things were “non-negotiable.” She then went through the cost estimate and pointed out items such as, “Wood, plastics and composites” with a cost of $485,000, “finishes” at $571,150, and furnishings at $12,000. She said she would prefer to look at these areas for cost savings without compromising quality by perhaps going with less expensive materials where possible.
“That’s what draws my eyes first. Not reducing size, not eliminating the patio area, maybe reducing some landscaping,” Heiden said.
Miller said some things, such as furniture, were a “high-level guess” at this point as actual bids for those items won’t go out until after the construction bids are let. Heiden said she wants those numbers high now, “So we’re hopefully looking at the ceiling, and we can reduce that.”
Board Chairwoman Lisa Green-Douglas said she would be hesitant to cut spending on furniture and furnishings, and pointed to Cross Park Place’s use of “Trauma-Informed Design,” as a model for the facility.

“With all due respect to them (the architects,) this isn’t my first rodeo. There’s a way you do this, and so, you lead off with the thing they know we want most, which is the size. OK, I get that. I don’t want to reduce the size.” – Supervisor Rod Sullivan