Aspen city offices get first $5M for initial work

An architect's rendering of what a new municipal office would look like on Rio Grande Place.
City of Aspen/courtesy image

Aspen City Council on Monday approved almost $4.6 million to begin construction on a new municipal office building located between Rio Grande Place and Galena Plaza.

The expenses come in two change orders with Shaw Construction and Charles Cunniffe Architects, as well as a new contract with a former city employee and a separate one for utility work with another company.

As a result of two years of legal wrangling between the city and residents who sued the government over council’s approval of the building, a majority of voters selected the new office building at 425 Rio Grande Place in last fall’s election over another option downtown.

The voter-approved capital plan for municipal office space also includes a renovation of the current City Hall on Galena Street, known as the armory.

The current estimate to complete the building at Galena and Rio Grande Place is $31.8 million and $14 million for the armory, bringing the total to $45.8 million.

Council signed off on a new owner’s representative for the two projects — Concept One Group, Inc. — whose president is Jack Wheeler.

Wheeler was the city’s capital asset director until he stepped away from his $113,714 annual salary this past October to start his own consulting business.

The city agreed to sign on with Wheeler’s firm at a cost of over $455,000 for the next two years because of his intimate knowledge with the project.

Since 2017, Wheeler has overseen the design, size, space programming and other details of the Rio Grande building in his role as the city’s capital asset director.

Wheeler told The Aspen Times last month that he didn’t envision working for the city so quickly but was tapped by his replacement in the city, Jeff Pendarvis, to replace Denver-based consultants NV5.

Councilman Ward Hauenstein on Monday questioned the justification of why the city didn’t go through a competitive bid process as part of the government’s procurement procedures.

Pendarvis said changes in personnel at NV5 occurred around the same time as Wheeler’s departure, and the city would have spent an inordinate time bringing a new project manager up to speed.

“We are moving forward because of Jack’s knowledge,” Pendarvis told council.

City Attorney Jim True said he reviewed the switch to Concept One Group carefully and it fits in with the city’s procurement code.

The city’s contract with Concept One Group, Inc. to be the owner’s representative for the municipal office project is $333,900 and $120,960 for the armory, plus reimbursables at 7 percent, cost plus.

Concept One’s proposed fees for new offices at 425 Rio Grande are $16,160 a month for 2019 and $11,665 in 2020.

For the city offices at the armory, Concept One is charging $8,080 a month in 2019.

Hourly rates run from as high as $160 for the project director to as low as $75 an hour for a project engineer. There are five team members from Concept One assigned to the projects, according to the contract.

Council also agreed to a contract change order to Shaw Construction at an amount of $3.1 million for utility and deconstruction work.

Shaw has included in its contract work from Kathleen Wanatowicz with PR Studio to manage community and public outreach for the project.

Concurrent to the Rio Grande project, the city plans to replace the 50-plus-year-old water main from Founders Place to Mill Street, and relocate the electric switch gear box that is currently in the middle of the intersection at Mill Street and Rio Grande Place.

That work is included in the contract change order at a cost of $777,683.

A change order for Charles Cunniffe Architecture for final design is $932,089, which includes compensation to the design team for delays and future construction administration services.

Council also approved $53,675 for Phil Vaughan Construction Management, Inc. for excavation and utility inspection services.

Council in December authorized reimbursement up to $28.7 million in project costs that may be incurred prior to formally securing financing for municipal offices.

Interim City Manager Sara Ott said the city plans to finance the project with certificates of participation.

Groundbreaking occurred Friday, with construction activities starting off slowly but will ramp up.

The project is scheduled to proceed at full speed April 1 and be completed the first quarter of 2021.