Costs rise for new Aspen government building |

Costs rise for new Aspen government building

The city of Aspen’s new office building will cost $2 million more than originally thought, due to elected officials’ desire to move the seat of government to the Rio Grande site, as well as making the 37,500-square-foot facility as environmentally sustainable as it can be.

Aspen City Council, which last fall directed project managers to move council chambers and related departments like the city manager and attorney offices, agreed this week on how to shore up the funding gap.

Half of the money will come from the city and Pitkin County’s Renewable Energy Mitigation Program, which is funded by fees paid by homeowners who build energy-consumptive properties.

Another $500,000 will come from earned interest on the city’s certificates of participation that it issued last year as a way to finance the $34.5 million building.

The remaining $500,000 will come from the project’s contingency fund, which will draw it down to $900,000.

“It’s always concerning to me about contingencies being spent down; they seem to be baked into actual programming and less about contingency, and in this case a large chunk has already gone into this project,” said Mayor Torre, noting he had trepidation about the project that had been pushed by a previous council and voted on by Aspen residents.

The contingency fund, originally $2.9 million, has gone down due to COVID-19 ramifications and other unforeseen costs like the $1.5 million spent to fix a water table breach under the parking garage for the building’s geothermal system, according to Jack Wheeler, president of the Concept One Group and owner’s representative for the city.

Wheeler told council on Monday during a work session that he feels confident the $900,000 remaining in contingency is enough to finish the project on the current budget.

“We are through all of the high-risk areas,” he said. “We do have some unforeseen conditions that we may hit as we demo and rebuild the interior of the Rio Grande building, but what I know of that building and the renovations that I have been involved with, I don’t see a lot of risk there.”

Wheeler said Wednesday that the industry standard is 10% contingency on construction projects. The Rio Grande building had an 8.5% contingency but that has been reduced as the project cost has risen.

In May 2019, the guaranteed maximum price by general contractor Shaw Construction for the interior space of the new building and the adjacent Rio Grande building was $3.4 million with 50% of the construction drawings complete.

Once City Council agreed to move the government seat from the current armory building into the new offices, the costs for the interior portions rose to $5.4 million with 100% of construction drawings complete.

Wheeler said that by going from a generic design to a more specific one, which requires more offices and large rooms like council chambers and other public spaces, the functionality of the building gets more complicated with mechanical and electrical systems.

“We have to control each room, so it’s a big deal,” he said.

And so is making the entire building 100% carbon neutral, which also added to the cost.

It is designed to be LEED Gold and WELL Building Silver certified.

The structure will be heated and cooled via a ground source geothermal system and electric boilers, Wheeler noted.

In the basement, there is allowance for a future data center and space for future broadband and small cell providers, as well as secure storage.

On the roof, there will be a solar array.

“It’s a very thoughtful and sustainable design,” Wheeler said Wednesday.

And due to COVID-19, new best practices recommended by the design and engineering team will implement some modifications to the operation of the air-handling system of the building.

Since the air-handling mechanical system was purchased and installed in the basement prior to the pandemic outbreak in March, the primary methodology recommended for addressing COVID-like viruses relates to increased ventilation, amended run times for HVAC systems and increasing the type of filters above minimum standards, Wheeler wrote in a memo to council.

Additional items include building infrastructure for temperature check areas at entry points.

Council could’ve decided to take $1.5 million from the asset management plan and forgo other capital projects in the future, or reduce the scope of the new office building, including its interior spaces, to shore up the financing gap.

“(Reducing the scope) just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever, it would be costly and it would be like stopping halfway through the Sistine Chapel,” Councilwoman Rachel Richards said. “You can’t just stop at certain points and say ‘redesign now, redo this.’ That would cost a lot of money and a lot of delays.”

Council was unanimous Monday that REMP funding is appropriate to employ, since it is set aside for environmentally sustainable projects.

“I feel very comfortable using REMP funds using the city as a delivery vehicle achieving carbon energy goals,” said Councilman Ward Hauenstein, who also serves on the REMP board of directors as a city representative. “I’m proud of what this building will and should be.”

As Charles Cunniffe Architects relocated the seat of government to the third floor of the new city building, several departments most closely related to City Council’s activities and meetings that were slated to be in the armory building will be relocated to the new offices.

The third floor will contain the city clerk, the climate action department, council chambers, a flexible meeting room and an overflow lobby.

The first floor will accommodate the engineering, planning and building departments, and a restaurant space at the Rio Grande building.

The second floor has been adjusted to accommodate finance, quality assurance, human resources, city manager’s office and legal department, as well as a break area and a City Council conference room.

Due to COVID-19 shutting down the construction site at the end of March for over four weeks and restrictions in place now around social distancing to slow the spread of the virus, the project is three months behind and is scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2021.

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