Converting Fred’s building into municipal center could start in May, depending on bids

Architect Ross Barkley with Fred's plan NEMiss.News
Architect Ross Barkley explains the bid plan to aldermen.
February 1st, 2021     Featured News General News


The renovation of the former Fred’s store into a municipal complex may start as early as May, depending on how much the pandemic has inflated construction materials costs.

City officials met with New Albany native  and architect Ross Barkley Friday for a final update before bid advertisements are prepared. He said he hopes to have the advertisements ready by mid-February and then give contractors 45 days in which to calculate their costs before submitting bids to be opened.

That would mean it will be in April before officials learn how far their money will go.

When the light, gas and water department purchased the building for the city this past year they estimated the cost would be about $2.5 million to convert it for utility and police department space. They set aside $3 million from a bond issue to pay for the work and furnishings.

The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in manpower and materials shortages as well as transportation delays, however, driving the estimated price up to $5 million.

This has forced officials to trim the project as much as they can without sacrificing functionality, and they still may have to do the work in phases rather than all at once.

When the advertisements go out, the base bid will only include renovation of the building exterior and finishing the light, gas and water department, which will occupy about half the space. The utility comes first because it is providing the money.

Bid alternate one will add the police department to the base bid. Alternate two will add the exterior of the former WIC building as well as the interior, excluding the courtroom.

After the city purchased the Fred’s building the owners of the adjacent WIC building on Carter Avenue offered it to the city. The city purchased it for use as a municipal court building and city boardroom.

Finally, bid alternate three would add the courtroom, which will cost more than office space, to construction.

“This way you can see what the cost is for each department,” Barkley said. He estimated the WIC building would cost about $700,000 alone, another reason to make it a lower priority.

The one exception in the alternates is that a police dispatch office, which also will be a safe room, will be in the base bid rather than alternate one.

Barkley said they have tried to lean more toward open workspace than individual offices to reduce costs.

“We have tried to be good stewards of the city’s money and I think we have hit the sweet spot,” Barkley said. He was referring to the need to balance quality with expense.

Lobby furnishings and public areas will be slightly nicer while non-public areas will be adequate but not fancy with medium-grade finish.

The exterior work will include a partial new roof, HVAC units, adding windows in the east and west walls and installing the light, gas and water drive-up window to the northwest corner of the building.

While Fred’s had a drive-through window for the pharmacy on the east side of the building, leaving it there would cause traffic congestion and safety problems for the police department.

There is not enough money to repave the large parking lot but it will be re-striped. Trees will be planted and a walk added for safety and other reasons where some parking spaces are literally on the edge of Main Street.

Although there is a large parking area, the departments will use much of that space and it will really make sense for those attending municipal court to park directly across the street in the library parking lot.

Department heads agreed that they are happy to focus on functionality first.

“There is still room to grow,” light, gas and water manager Bill Mattox said.

Obviously the utility and police departments are priorities but can continue to operate where they are a little longer.

As far as municipal court, the lowest priority, is concerned, the municipal court clerk’s staff is already renting space next to the police department and can continue there. County officials have allowed the city to use the justice courtroom at the jail but really want the city to move to its own for space.

The city not only ties up the courtroom, but adds congestion to the jail lobby and leads to people mistaking the justice court clerk’s office for the municipal clerk’s office. This just means unnecessary distractions for the justice court staff.

For the time being, the WIC building could probably be used as a courtroom with minimum work one and simply moving chairs into the space.

Concerning the bids, Barkley said the city may get some help in that they can negotiate with the lowest bidder for up to a 10-percent reduction, and contractors usually can find a way to work with the city.

Also, even though the light, gas and water department is paying for the project it can recoup some of that money by charging the police department rent.

Barkley added that they will be publicizing the bid advertisements to a larger pool of contractors and giving them plenty of time in an effort to help bring in lower prices.

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