Augusta Commission members broke ground Monday on about $40 million in additions and renovations to Augusta-Richmond County Municipal Building; then, some of them called into question why the construction project was expanding.
Last September, the commission approved partially remodeling the building to include a new elevator tower and work on the first and second floors using plans developed by architect Virgo Gambill.
Then, on March 11, seven commissioners authorized renovating the entire building and the adjacent city law and engineering offices, along with building a structure to house Information Technology, using existing sales-tax revenue and a $26.5 million bond issue.
After the groundbreaking Monday, Commissioner Donnie Smith questioned why the city's public services committee was asked to approve a $579,257 change order that allowed Virgo to design the entire project.
“They originally were contracted to do the renovation of the municipal building; then we decided to add the IT building and several other buildings to this project, and yet it did not go through procurement to allow other architects to bid on this project,” Smith said.
“When we did the plan to move forward, it was my understanding it was going to happen that way,” City Administrator Fred Russell said, calling the process of amending existing contracts with Virgo and construction manager Turner Construction “quicker, cheaper and faster” than rebidding the project.
“That's not the process,” Commissioner Marion Williams said.
“That should have been something that this body should have been talked to about,” Smith said.
In a related matter, after a discussion on recent declines in sales tax collections, the city's engineering services committee sidelined Utilities Director Tom Wiedemeier's proposal to buy the Augusta Neighborhood Improvement Corp. building on Laney-Walker Boulevard to house customer service workers and the former downtown main library for utilities administration.
“My issue is, we're not thinking five years down the road for your growth,” said Commissioner Joe Jackson, suggesting Utilities look to a vacant grocery nearby as a possible location with better parking than the ANIC building.
Williams said the ANIC building was crowded, had no public restrooms and was unsuited for customer service.
Russell, suggesting the body discuss the proposal at a retreat Wednesday, said it was an effort to move city departments out of rented space, such as the ANIC building, which has housed city offices since it opened a decade ago.
Complicating the proposal was another he had just heard from a private developer seeking to put a data center and other facilities at the vacant library building, Russell said.