At a tense called meeting Tuesday, the Augusta Commission authorized $565,000 in change orders to ongoing renovations at the Municipal Building and restarted construction on the building’s eighth and ninth floors.
The changes, an attempt to address issues with the new second-floor layout raised by the city clerk, commissioners and local judges, fund construction of a document vault in a spacious suite designed to house the city law office, where the commission recently voted the commission clerk will move.
They also fund plumbing and renovations in the existing commission area, behind the dais, to create a second bathroom for commissioners and judges, once the space is turned over to senior judges.
Interim City Administrator Tameka Allen said that based on estimates from project manager Heery International, the new vault will cost about $500,000.
“It shouldn’t be on our back,” said Commissioner Marion Williams, a critic of Heery’s role in the project. “Why is there a cost?”
“The approval to do what was done was actually provided,” Allen said. “So Heery nor the contractor did anything that was not approved to be done.”
Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle said former City Administrator Fred Russell, whom the commission fired in December, “signed off” on the layout of the clerk and commission area, including a decision to use an existing upper floor vault for document storage.
“I would like to have Forrest’s equation on this as far as the cost,” Guilfoyle asked of Heery lead consultant Forrest White.
“What we’re trying to do is duplicate as close as possible what you have,” White said.
The work includes removing shelving from a space intended as a law library, combining the library with a storage room to make space for the vault, installing fire-resistant drywall and turning off a sprinkler system to avoid damaging documents, he said.
“I also went ahead and … put in a proper file system for records such as this,” White said.
“Is that something the clerk requested?” Guilfoyle asked.
“No, but we need to have them talk to her about that,” White said. “I was trying to capture every eventuality that I could think of.”
While most department heads were closely involved in the design of their offices – city General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie, for example, wrote a letter specifying his department’s need for larger suites and meeting rooms – clerk Lena Bonner said she had yet to meet with Heery regarding plans to modify the legal suite.
“As to the clerk relocating to the space formerly assigned to the law department,” Bonner said, “as far as any renovations or modifications to it, I have not been privileged to look at those.”
“I think he’s going above and beyond to make sure you are satisfied,” Guilfoyle said.
On resuming construction on the eighth and ninth floors, which commissioners suspended when the second-floor issues came up, White said mechanics and electricians might soon quit their jobs if the work is delayed much longer.
“Starting next week we’re going to start losing crews,” he said. “A lot of these people we had to go through a training curve to get them used to working on an existing building.”
Lockett said the commission has no alternative but to pay for the changes.
“Early on, I thought maybe Heery or the architect or someone should be held responsible for it,” Lockett said.
“The more you look into it, you see they did what they were told to do … We did it, we own it, so now there’s no other choice but to pay for it.”
A motion to fund the construction passed 6-3, with Commissioners Mary Davis, Joe Jackson and Williams opposed and Commissioner Alvin Mason absent. Resuming construction on the eighth and ninth floors passed 8-1 with Williams opposed.
The commission also discussed but declined to amend the city’s consolidation act, which specifies that the commission meets “at the courthouse.”
The detail prompted a compromise in 2011 to designate the municipal building as a “courthouse annex” when the new judicial center opened, but has created a new issue as judges want to use the commission chamber as an overflow courtroom, with holding cells, for large trials and to include office space for senior judges, who routinely handle bond and arraignment hearings.
“All we’ve got to do is change the wording in the charter to do away with it?” Guilfoyle asked.
White said he had taken court staff on a tour of court provisions on the second floor “just before we opened up this space” and they were pleased.
Later, Chief Superior Court Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet “got involved, and he wants to start having some jury trials here,” White said.
Once the clerk moves, a conference room will serve as a jury room, and the senior judges can move to the clerk’s former offices, White said.
“We’re going to have to have another restroom back there, no matter what,” Lockett said. “Common sense will tell you you’ve got to do those things.”
Lastly, Allen defended keeping Deputy Finance Director Tim Schroer involved with the construction project, something Lockett said last week needed to stop.
“Yes, he was probably delegated some additional things by the previous administrator, but as I explained to Commissioner Lockett, it would be a disservice to take him from the project, because he has done a great job of trying to keep everything going with this project and making sure that he was the liaison to work with Heery and make sure we did not go past any of our deadlines or our timelines and that we stayed within our budgetary means,” she said.
Lockett later apologized for calling out Schroer for his work on the project.