Originally created 03/02/05

Research lab costs grow for Aiken County



AIKEN -- The county must spend about $525,000 more than it anticipated to complete its hydrogen research lab, leaving it with a shoestring budget of $133,000 to finish the project by October.

County Engineer Joe Berry told the Aiken County Council on Tuesday night that $167,400 was needed to pay for structural modifications that are needed because engineers miscalculated the seismic classification for the building site.

The calculations must be precise because the county plans to lease half the building to the Savannah River National Laboratory and the other half to private investors, both of which will research unstable hydrogen gas.

Soil samples that are used to classify the potential for seismic activity hadn't been tested when the county prepared its cost estimates in May, Mr. Berry told council members in a work session. Engineers assumed the samples would be identical to samples from buildings only 500 feet away , but tests conducted after construction started showed that the building site was actually on slightly less stable ground, he said.

Mr. Berry tried to soften the news by describing the second expense - $88,000 to buy electrical and gas meters ñ as a "positive" that will allow the county to bill its tenants for the utilities, rather than having to foot the bill.

About $270,000 of the overrun is because of the cost inflation of building materials and gasoline, Mr. Berry said. That didn't include about $340,000 in engineering changes aimed at saving money.

The county still has to hire contractors to install lab equipment. Mr. Berry told council members he didn't foresee any additional overtures, although he couldn't be sure.

The unforeseen expenses will push the cost to $9.73 million, and the county has $9.86 million on hand to pay for the project, County Administrator Clay Killian said.

Councilman Chuck Smith scolded Mr. Berry for the additional costs and questioned the county's engineering firm, Gilbert Group Engineers LLC of Greenwood.

"This is just appalling to me," he said.

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 648-1395, ext. 113, or josh.gelinas@augustachronicle.com.