Commission votes to expand Municipal Building renovation

 

The Augusta Commission voted Tuesday to move toward borrowing $21.5 million to renovate the Municipal Building, expanding the scope of the project and its cost, which would total $31.2 million.

The 9-1 vote was a change in direction from a prior meeting, when City Administrator Fred Russell recommended a modified $22.8 million version of the remodeling plan that targeted only three of the building’s nine floors.

The renovations were originally billed as a $18 million project. Russell said Tuesday that delays from a lawsuit added as much as $2 million to its cost. He and Forrest White, a senior associate for city sales tax project manager Heery International, estimated earlier Tuesday that Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant elevator shafts, required by 2010 changes in the law, were the “big ticket” component of the modified plan, but they couldn’t specify how much a new external elevator tower will cost.

The full plan includes renovations to the building’s nine floors and basement. It will move commission chambers and the mayor’s office to the second floor and the planning and development department to the third floor.

Russell said he will seek a plan from the city’s financial adviser about how to cover the difference with borrowed money, calling it a “back-door G.O.,” or general obligation bond, which would not require voter approval. That means likely having a local development authority, such as the Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority, issue the bonds, he said.

The debt, also expected to cover the cost of a new In­for­mation Technology facility, could be repaid through Augusta’s next sales tax referendum. If that didn’t pass, it would cost about $1.2 million annually from city coffers for 30 years to repay, Russell said.

Delaying the project until the next tax referendum would probably cost an additional $2 million, he said.

Supporting the move, Mayor Deke Copenhaver said “short-sighted decisions have cost this government a lot in the long run.”

Commissioner J.R. Hat­ney made the motion to go forward with searching for funding sources. It was seconded by Commissioner Bill Lockett.

“I think now is time to streamline the efficiency of our departments,” Com­mis­sioner Matt Aitken said, alluding to a plan to put most city business in a single location. “It’s time to bite the bullet and make this campus as it should be.”

The one commissioner to vote against the move, Wayne Guilfoyle, questioned recent oversights that led to confusion and questions about other construction projects.

“Where are we going to be a year from now, and are we going to exceed the cost of the judicial center, and what else has been missed?” he said. “I don’t want to get into the same scenario.”

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