Clover debates town hall renovation cost

jbecknell@enquirerherald.comDecember 17, 2013 

— Town leaders, who were shocked at the cost to renovate Town Hall, are exploring cheaper options.

The lowest of four bids to renovate the existing Clover Town Hall and the former Wachovia bank building was more than $140,000 more than the town budgeted. The town spent $171,000 in February to buy the former Wachovia building for added office space, but the building needs some work.

“For me, the costs are too high for what we’re getting,” said Mayor Donnie Grice, one of several council members who verbally balked at the cost during a meeting last week.

Town Manager Allison Harvey said the town has about $218,000 on hand to finish work on the two projects. However, the lowest bid for the work, from Rock Hill-based JM Cope, came to $362,700.

“We had a little sticker shock over how much it came to be,” Harvey told the council last week.

That bid included $207,500 for the new Town Hall renovation, $75,000 for work on the existing Town Hall and $80,200 for site work, she said.

Harvey said she met with the JM Cope bid team to discuss ways to reduce the renovation cost and bring it in line with the town’s budget.

She recommended cutting the cost for what she called a “value engineered” job by doing the new Town Hall building renovation only and removing a drive-through canopy planned at the new site.

Harvey recommended that the town remove about $92,000 from its reserve fund to cover the cost of finishing the scaled-down project, which would come to about $310,000.

But Grice and council members Wes Spurrier, Jay Dover and Todd Blanton all voiced reservations about the cost. Spurrier noted that the town had already agreed to take about $300,000 from its reserve fund to balance the current budget.

“This is really getting back to a bad practice of using our fund balance,” Spurrier said.

During another council meeting Monday, council members debated how to proceed. Council member Ann Harvey argued the town should go ahead with the project and use money from its reserve fund.

“You have got to use what you’ve got if you want it to look nice,” said Harvey. “And I want it to look nice. . . I want this building to be outstanding for Clover.”

Grice, who owns a remodeling and restoration company, argued the town could save money by serving as its own general contractor and hiring a “consultant” to manage the project.

By purchasing the materials itself, he said, the town could avoid inflated costs.

“It’s a win-win for everybody,” Grice said after the meeting. “We’ll be able to come in and do more for the money that we have budgeted. We should be able to stay within budget and get everything that we wanted originally, and maybe even more.”

He said the town has some experience with this in recent years. Grice said the town managed renovations on the Clover Police Department, the Larne Building and the Clover Community Center. It also handled new construction of the Clover Fire Department, he said.

“I know it can be successful because we’ve done it on at least four other occasions,” he said. “We can do it in a different fashion and have the same quality or better and save the taxpayers a lot of money.”

After debating the issue for more than an hour, council members voted to table the existing bids and have Grice and the town staff seek some estimates from subcontractors on completing the work with the town as general contractor. Ann Harvey voted against the plan.

Allison Harvey voice a concern about the demand on town staff time if the town is its own general contractor. “We might not get to other projects as soon because we might get bogged down with this one,” she said.

Dover and Blanton agreed that it’s worth exploring the possibility of whether the town could do the project for less. “If it takes longer, it takes longer, and we’ll just have to live with it,” Dover said.

Jennifer Becknell •  803-329-4077

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