Aspen council to take up Wheeler project budget
August 8, 2011
ASPEN – The Aspen City Council will consider a staff request to raise the “overall budget authority” for renovations to the Wheeler Opera House by $665,000, which would bring the total project cost to nearly $2.9 million.
Of the $665,000 that the city’s Capital Asset Department says is necessary to complete the project, $322,526 would be budgeted for Aspen Constructors Inc., the general contractor. Overall, ACI would receive an estimated $2.3 million for its part in the initiative, which is taking place in three phases. The city is pushing for completion before the start of the 2011-12 ski season in December.
The lion’s share of the increase in the project cost, according to capital asset project manager Steve Bossart, relates to several problems that weren’t discovered until ACI was working on the first phase: the dismantling of the Wheeler’s basement, restaurant and retail area.
Bossart said that deconstruction – which city documents also refer to as “demolition” – revealed that the heating and cooling (HVAC) system serving the entire building except for the theater auditorium was past its useful life and should be replaced. Also, the reconfiguration of the restaurant kitchen “requires a pathway for the ventilation system that necessitates removal of the existing HVAC system,” a memorandum to the council states.
There are other issues, such as leaky and inefficient water lines.
“Once demolition reached a point that existing conditions were revealed so that engineers and designers could finalize scope and budget, all principals associated with this project quickly realized that there would be significantly more work required for the project, specifically related to design flaws and construction execution from the 1983-84 renovation,” the memo states.
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Bossart said that to reuse some of the faulty mechanical systems and HVAC ducts would be more costly in the long run, given their condition.
“While the new design and budget are greater than initially projected, the project provides the city with a much improved and more efficient operating system, while significantly reducing potential life safety and building safety hazards,” the memo states.
An increase in the cost of the project was not unexpected. According to Bossart’s memo, staff noted during the spring that “the preliminary budget is being developed by the [project team] and may exceed $2.5 million, depending on direction from City Council.”
A letter to the project’s architect, Rowland + Broughton, from August Hasz of Crested Butte-based Resource Engineering Group, explains that many of the issues discovered during the deconstruction phase, focusing on the mechanical loft area above the Wheeler’s main level.
“The maintenance staff has (correctly in our opinion) identified that all of the equipment in this area is at or near the end its useful service life,” the letter says. “Due to layers of system retrofits and changes over the long history of the building, much of this equipment is nearly impossible to properly service.”
Bentley’s occupied the restaurant space for 27 years until early June, when the owner shut down his operation a few weeks earlier than planned. The departure of Bentley’s allowed the city and ACI to begin the basement and restaurant work sooner.
Though the overall cost of the project might be rising, Bossart pointed out that the first phase of the initiative is under budget, thanks to the “integrated project delivery” process. Under the IPD system, the city, contractor, architect and others work together as a team to plan each step of the project and to find solutions to issues as they arise. Contracts are awarded in phases, which differs from a typical government arrangement in which a project is planned and a general contractor is hired to handle all of the work after winning a contract through a competitive bid.
In late March, the council voted to award a new lease for the restaurant space to a group called Fiercely Local LLC, whose owners currently operate the Cheese Shop/Specialty Foods of Aspen on East Hopkins Avenue. Bentley’s, along with seven other restaurateurs, unsuccessfully applied for the new lease in the months before the decision to go with Fiercely Local.
The council meeting begins at 5 p.m. Monday at Aspen City Hall, 130 S. Galena St.