City Hall repairs delayed

Apr. 12, 2014 @ 10:00 PM

Plans for a $6.4 million facelift of City Hall’s exterior suffered a setback in recent months, pushing the start of work to at least the late summer.

Deputy City Manager Bo Ferguson told elected officials on Thursday the project had ground to a halt after his boss, City Manager Tom Bonfield, opted against signing a construction contract with the firm that won the bidding for the work.

Officials in the General Services Department are preparing to start anew, this time by looking for a “construction manager at risk” to orchestrate the project, Ferguson said.

Bonfield later confirmed that he’d put on ice the City Council-approved contract award to Burney & Burney Construction Co. Inc., a builder out of Greenville, N.C.

The contractor “was not able to get a performance bond” to insure completion of the project without additional financial risk to the city, he said.

He noted the project envisions replacing the building’s south façade, a “complicated” piece of work officials want done because inspectors say the existing paneling is only weakly anchored to the structure.

“If what we considered to be some basic, fundamental parts of the job couldn’t get done, it made everybody wonder what’s going to happen once we get to the complicated stuff,” Bonfield said.

The move to a construction manager comes at the urging of General Services Director Joel Reitzer, in response to a change in the economic climate, he said.

The construction-manager approach is one the city’s used before, most notably to build the Durham Performing Arts Center. The selected firm helps refine the project’s design and then orchestrates the selection of contractors to actually build it.

But it’s been out of favor during Bonfield’s and Reitzer’s tenure with the city, which has coincided with the recession of 2008 and the drawn-out economic recovery that’s followed.

For much of that time, administrators have figured traditional bidding can bring a quality result along with the lowest prices, as the recession’s fallout left many contractors scrambling for work.

Now that the market is picking back up, “there’s not as many people … playing in the low-bid market,” Bonfield said.

An industry-standard benchmark, the Turner Building Cost Index, confirms that the large-project construction market is undergoing a shift.

From the fourth quarter of 2012 to the fourth quarter of 2013, the index rose by about 4.5 percent.

While that’s nowhere near as large as the year-to-year cost increases typical in pre-recession years, it’s a departure from the relatively flat or falling prices that have been common since the market crash in 2008.

Burney & Burney was one of six contractors to bid on the City Hall project, offering to do its end of the job for $4.6 million.

It was the low bidder by $95,000, quoting a price 8.8 percent below the average bid.

The balance of the $6.4 million project budget covers design and supervision expenses, plus contingency reserves.

Officials had hoped work would begin in December, focusing initially on the replacement of City Hall’s mid-1970s-vintage cooling chillers. But the contractor “couldn’t get the orders in” on time for the new chillers to be installed on the city’s schedule, Bonfield said.

The completion bond had to insure Burney & Burney’s entire, $4.6 million bid, he added.

City Council members unanimously approved the contract award on Dec. 2, but the vote, as is customary, merely authorized the manager to sign the deal. As it didn’t order him to sign, Bonfield retained the discretion on whether to issue the final go-ahead.