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Unalaska Approves Moving Forward With Library Renovation, Increasing Budget By $3.2 Million

Laura Kraegel

The City of Unalaska has decided 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.

At Tuesday's council meeting, the Unalaska City Council voted 5-1 to continue with the project and fund the outstanding balance through the 1% Sales Tax Special Revenue Fund, a fund the city sets aside to support capital projects.

Dave Gregory was the only councilor opposed. He said the city should re-scope the project and try to lower costs.

"I voted at the last meeting to move this forward so we could take a look at some alternate engineering and such," said Gregory. "And I've been trying for three weeks to figure out a way to justify the cost of this project versus the square footage and what we're going to end up with, and I just can't get there. I think the cost is too much. We want a library, but we just can't afford those costs. So I intend to vote against the library funding."

The other five councilors supported the Library Improvements Project – which is part of Unalaska's Comprehensive Planand has been on the city's CMMP (Capital and Major Maintenance Plan) for five years.

Councilor Dennis Robinson said he decided to support the project largely due to the outpouring of community support.

"As I stated earlier, this is a hard pill to swallow, being so much over budget," said Robinson. "I'm pretty concerned about it, but I'm going to support it. And the reason I'm going to support it is because this is a project that helps the people. Far too often, the capital projects and the improvements we make in the community, are primarily – with the exception of this library project and some playground improvements – all for industry, all for business. And we need to get back to a community that is family-oriented, and I see the library as the impetus for that."

The approximately $3 million overage came as a big surprise to councilors in December.

Project architect Brian Meissner said at last month's meeting that 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.

"The great thing about this process is we now have the opportunity to work with F&W [Construction] to find significant savings," said Meissner. 

F&W Construction – which was awarded the bid at last night's meeting – has been working with the city for the past month to figure out cost savings, after councilors expressed major concern.

PCR Director Roger Blakeley said they have identified approximately $952,000 dollars in savings thus far. 

"In addition, since our last meeting, we've applied to the Rasmuson Foundation," said Blakeley. "We've applied for $700,000 at their request. And because they've helped us before, we stand a very good chance of receiving that money sometime later on this summer."

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

Now that F&W Construction has been awarded the bid, they can work with the city to identify and negotiate more cost savings. 

Hope McKenney reported for KUCB from 2019 until 2022. She was KUCB's news director starting in 2021.
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