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After Bids Come In $3.2 Million Over Budget, Unalaska Considers Proceeding With Library Renovation

ECI Hyer Inc.

The City of Unalaska is considering whether or not to move forward with renovations to the public library after bids for the project came in $3.2 million over the estimated and budgeted amounts.

City Manager Erin Reinders said at last week's City Council meeting she encourages the council to move forward with the project.

"Staff sees at this point that we have three primary options for council to consider," said Reinders. "One is to reject all the bids and decide not to proceed with the library building improvement project. The second option is that we reject all of the bids and allow time for staff to re-scope the project to have it be within the existing budget outlined in the [Capital and Major Maintenance Plan]. The third option is to continue moving forward and approve this project as designed and as bid."

The council is considering funding the outstanding balance through the 1% Sales Tax Special Revenue Fund, a fund the city sets aside to support capital projects.  

Brian Meissner, architect for the Library Improvement Project, said normally, he'd expect bids to be 40 to 50 percent higher in Unalaska than Anchorage prices – mainly due to challenging travel logistics. But some sub-bids for this project – for things like roofing and electrical – came in at 200 percent or higher. Those are numbers he'd expect to see on the North Slope.

But he said he believes the city can get those costs down, if the council goes ahead and approves the bid with F&W Construction. Meissner said the city would be able to save significantly by renegotiating costs for things like roofing, windows and glazing, and ceilings.

"The great thing about this process is we now have the opportunity to work with F&W to find significant savings," said Meissner. "Working with them, we've already identified about $500,000 in savings off of their base bid that seem reasonably easy to achieve, and another $300,000 that can be achieved with some pain."

A number of councilors, including Vice Mayor Dennis Robinson and Shari Coleman, expressed hesitation to go ahead and approve the additional $3.2 million, despite Meissner's confidence that the city will be able to get costs down.

A large number of Unalaskans showed up to City Council to voice their support for the library expansion and renovation, including M. Lynn Crane, chair of the Library Advisory Committee.

"The library is where we go to learn, to teach, to meet, and to connect," said Crane. "It's where our babies and toddlers first discover the magic that books really are. Where our elders learn to use computers. Where our transient workers and fishermen and women go to email their far-away families. Where college students and life-long learners take their classes. Where craftspeople go to do crafty things together. Where school children go to do their homework and study for tests. Where we all go for our books, movies, and even games. And although we don't like to think about this, the library is a safe place where kids and teens can go when things don't feel safe at home."

The City Council has 60 days from bid date to lock in the current bid. Councilors will be deciding at their Jan. 14 meeting whether or not to approve the project bid from F&W and use the 1% Sales Tax Special Revenue Fund to pay the additional project costs.

The Library Improvement Project is part of Unalaska's Comprehensive Planand has been on the city's CMMP for five years.

It proposes to renovate about 8,000 square feet and add an additional 3,000 to Unalaska's library.

Hope McKenney is a public radio news director, reporter, producer and host based in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska.
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