City seeks another $281,331 for downtown project

By Matt Harrelson

February 6, 2014

Matt Harrelson

Rockingham city officials have yet to rule out using taxpayer dollars to raze the Steele building on East Washington Street and construct a new multipurpose building.

Mayor Steve Morris last month expressed hope that a $475,000 grant from the Cole Foundation would cover 100 percent of the cost to tear down the existing building at 228 E. Washington St. and build a restaurant and, within the same structure, a cafeteria for patrons of Discovery Place KIDS, which is located directly across the street.

That original plan was foiled, however, when the low bid among eight received and opened on Jan. 23 was $952,907, from the Oakboro-based Carpenter Construction Company. Since then, the city and WHN Architects, of Charlotte, have worked with Carpenter Construction to eliminate what has now been deemed unnecessary spending.

It leaves the city looking for an additional $281,331 to complete the project. The issue is expected to be discussed at the mayor and City Council’s regular public meeting, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall on Rockingham Road.

“I identified over two dozen items which Carpenter Construction, in concert with their contractors have (deducted) amounts for those changes,” wrote J.F. Hatem Jr., of WHN Architects, in a letter Tuesday to City Manager Monty Crump.

The items eliminated from the project range from less expensive sound proofing material — a savings of $14,200 — to taking off doors and deleting cloud ceiling to save another $46,502. Eliminating glass garage doors would save another $38,900.

Even after eliminating all the non-essentials, Hatem said the revised price is $756,331 — a figure still $281,331 higher than the Cole Foundation grant.

“Some of the extras with the finishing touches were just expensive,” Morris said. “We haven’t altered the character of the building, we’ve just changed some things around.”

In a memo Wednesday from Crump to Morris and City Council members, Crump said the low bid “was somewhat higher than anticipated.”

“As result of the higher than anticipated bids, city staff spent considerable time with the architect and low bidder to value engineer the project,” said Crump. “As long as the scope and integrity of (the) original project is not altered, it is permissible to (value engineer) public projects with (the) lowest responsible bidder.”

Crump, who said he was unavailable for comment for this article Thursday, wrote in the memo he is “comfortable” recommending the city move forward with the revised bid of $756,331 —and the difference between that and the Cole Foundation grant is the responsibility of the city. City officials on Thursday indicated it was unclear where the remaining $281,331 would come from.

“No plans have been made about that,” Morris said. “We’ll check with foundations, state grants and other city assets.”

Morris did not rule out the possibility of eliminating additional features of on the planned building.

City Councilman Bennett Deane III said the council would consider all available options as Crump presents them at the meeting.

“I’d hate to put the cart before the horse until the council has decided it,” said Deane. “The city manager will present options to us. There’s no firm grasp on what the cost will be so I don’t want to jeopardize the project at this point.”