Pricey town hall embodies town's vision of 'new Marana' - The Explorer: Import

Pricey town hall embodies town's vision of 'new Marana'

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Posted: Wednesday, May 18, 2005 11:00 pm | Updated: 7:50 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

May 11, 2005 - With more than four years from concept to fruition, Marana officials admit it's been a long and costly journey to construct a municipal complex emblematic of everything the growing town hopes to become.

Acting Mayor Herb Kai and other council members joined in cutting the red ribbon to ceremonially dedicate the new Marana Municipal Complex on May 3 during an event attended by hundreds.

Many are singing praises, now, that the complex has finally arrived and will anchor the future Town Center as a shining example to the commercial and residential developments soon to sprout along the sidelines of Marana Main Street.

"It hasn't always been easy and it hasn't always been fun, but I think we can all agree it's worth it," Kai said during a brief council meeting just before the crowd flocked outside to enjoy refreshments and watch fireworks from the lawn.

"Worth it," though, actually means worth $32.3 million. Following an initial redesign that bumped the cost up significantly, piece by piece the project has ballooned in both price and scope since its inception.

During the course of the project, on-site building costs have risen from $15.1 million to $24.3 million, while off-site costs have more than doubled from $4.2 million to $9.2 million, according to a comparison of past and current budget figures. Those increases amount to a 74 percent price jump when combined.

"Price was always an issue and it still continues to be," said Town Manager Mike Reuwsaat. "You want to make sure there's a good expenditure of public funds and that you get value over time. It's a building that will stand the test of time."

Kai said the multistory, multi-building complex is reflective of the strength of the community, calling it a "proud symbol" of Marana. He said the complex furthers Marana's commitment to giving its citizens the greatest quality of life and the highest levels of service.

"It's not about just a building here, it's about the area … and what our expectations are for the rest of community to develop out over time," Reuwsaat said. "This building is the single largest public facility, outside of road structures, that the town will build in its history. This is the town center of Marana."

The complex brings most of the town's employees under one roof as a one-stop shop for administration, courts and police needs. It's also home to Marana's fourth town hall and includes a spacious council chamber room with a high-rise dais where future councils will lead for years to come.

Thanks to several high-tech gizmos at special request, council members now have access to an electronic keypad for voting from the dais, and their microphones feature buttons that can be depressed while they chat among themselves at meetings.

Also among the special features are video monitors in front of each council member so they can view presentations at the same time they're projected onto a large screen behind them.

"It's a lot more user-friendly and useful, which you'll see in upcoming council meetings," said Information Technology Manager Tony Casella, who, in August 2003, became Marana's third IT manager during the course of the project. "It's definitely worth the taxpayers' money, that's for sure."

Tim Allen, Marana's construction manager who oversaw the project, said radical changes in building design from a sterile look to a more radial shape and a drastic increase in square footage from about 73,000 to 113,000 contributed to part of the cost increase.

The complex, designed by Durrant Architects and built by contractor D.L. Withers Construction, rises from 20 acres of farm fields adjacent to the old town hall at Barnett and Lon Adams roads.

Allen said infrastructure improvements were added to the off-site portion of the project in an effort to induce investors to start buying properties around Marana Main Street, which extends from the complex's roundabout.

"I think the town council wants that town core to set an example to the developers to look up to," Allen said. "It would not have been complete if it had just been the building, itself. This was the most efficient way to deliver the project."

The town shopped for the site about five years ago and purchased 20 acres of property from Southwest Value Partners, developers of Continental Ranch, in anticipation of a population boom in the area.

Based on qualifications, the town hired Durrant to identify the long-term needs of the community for the next 10 to 15 years.

The town then looked at various options that could have had Durrant designing the complex before bidding it out for construction. However, D.L. Withers was soon hired to work on the design and construction in conjunction with Durrant, based on its qualifications, not its price.

"The advantage of that was having the company that was going to build it work with the architect to make sure the design was both effective and efficient for the town," Reuwsaat said.

At a Sept. 16, 2003 meeting, council members voted to approve a contract with D.L. Withers, setting the guaranteed maximum price of the building at $18.2, but that cost has been exceeded, according to the latest budget reports.

While on-site costs totaled $24.2 million, town officials say the actual building cost remains at $18.6 million, a slight increase from the promised $18.2 million.

Allen said early budget forecasts were unrealistic and didn't include the cost of signs, monuments and public art. Inside a large atrium lavishly decorated with a black slate floor lies an Italian glass mosaic of the town seal.

Other perks to town officials in the new complex include a large dining room, a fitness area and a locker room in which they can change and shower.

An additional $1.9 million went toward fixtures, furniture and equipment, while design costs for the on-site portion of the project inflated from $970,680 to $1.9 million.

Additional on-site costs that were not originally included in the budget but now are:

€ $338,716 for "miscellaneous fees and per

mits."

€ $65,000 for signage.

€ $481,728 for special systems/tel data.

€ $684,977 for audiovisual and security

systems.

€ $127,430 for public art.

€ $125,000 for a design phase construction management fee.

An earlier breakdown of the budget shows $80,000 going to new copy machines, $32,280 for new computers, $110,828 for Ethernet switches and $161,400 for a new phone system.

Costs that pushed the off-site portion of the budget up to $9.2 million included construction of Marana Main Street, which went from $1 million to $1.4 million and Civic Center Drive, which went from $1 million to $1.3 million.

Street lighting and electrical costs increased from $300,000 to $1.3 million. A roundabout in front of the complex that includes a large monument was budgeted for $150,000 but has risen to $250,000.

Off-site sewer improvements budgeted at $875,000 have risen to $1.26 million. Design costs for the off-site portion of the project increased from $327,000 to $879,267, while a routine paving of Grier Road budgeted at $275,000 ended up being a $793,701 project.

"We've had a lot of issues on Grier Road with utilities and the leaking Cortaro-Marana Irrigation District pipe, which was fairly significant," Reuwsaat said, adding that work on the still torn-up road should be finished in July. "One of the goals has always been to do it right, and when you take an older road such as Grier, there were a lot of 'surprises' that we found."

Additional off-site costs that were not originally included in the budget but now are:

€ $405,000 for dry utilities.

€ $400,035 for water improvements.

€ $679,600 to place a portion of the CMID

canal underground.

€ $85,000 for road extensions.

€ $10,000 for a fiber optic extension.

A separate portion of the budget includes $405,023 for "other technical services."

Meanwhile, landscaping costs have grown from $300,000 to $515,125, according to a budget summary released last week.

A copy of the Jan. 17 budget spreadsheet indicates AAA Landscape, which employs Councilman Tim Escobedo, was subcontracted for $316,500 and later received approval for $244,440 in change orders and another $1,199 pending with $10,000 forecasted to complete the project. That amounts to $572,139, $57,014 more than the budget summary shows.

Finance Director Roy Cuaron said he had no knowledge of why landscaping costs had become so high and had little knowledge of any specifics of the project's budget.

"I haven't been too involved in the project myself," he said.

In a recent e-mail message to D.L. Withers' project manager Marc Thompson, Reuwsaat noted that he drove by the front of the council meeting room and wasn't impressed with some of the landscaping.

"The last southern live oaks planted in the main planters and the area around the main planters are not satisfactory and should be replaced," his message states. "They are not foliated and have been topped. They look like ball and burlap trees from Texas that have not been containerized long enough."

The Arizona Department of Agriculture found an infestation of dangerous imported fire ants on a shipment of oak trees in March when AAA chose to venture into Texas for its supply, but the infestation was taken care of, town officials said.

Showing just how picky town officials were getting with the project, Casella noted in an e-mail message to Thompson on Feb. 1 stating that not all touchup paint in the conference center room matched.

In the same message, titled "couple more things," Casella asked for a "black dot key to get into all doors," and a "CAT6 certification report on all jacks installed from ACE," and said he would like to have a "window and Prox reader installed in the outside door of 'A' where I enter the building."

"You have to pay attention to detail and, as you can determine, there was extensive scrutiny to the process to make sure we ended up with the building that would work," Reuwsaat said.

In a March 15 interoffice memorandum to all town employees, Reuwsaat expressed frustration with the overflow of change requests from town staff, saying all change requests must receive his approval.

"This memo is the second and final request for employees to follow a chain of command when placing requests for changes or additions in the new municipal complex," Reuwsaat wrote. "Tony Casella is currently being swamped by such requests from all across the town - both employees already in the new building and those who have yet to move in."

Council members Escobedo, Jim Blake and Patti Comerford, along with certain senior staff members, constitute the town's building committee, which met weekly for months at a time to review and give input on everything from landscaping to security systems to the stone on the outside of the building.

"This represents, literally, hundreds of hours of meetings and review and committees and thousands of decisions," Reuwsaat said. "It's been a lot of work and a lot of scrutiny."

Cuaron said the town issued about $28 million in bonds to cover the cost of the project. The remaining balance will be paid out of the town's reserve fund, which has somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 million available, he said.

Reuwsaat said a few loose ends are still being tied up as the project gets finished in the coming months, but one thing came unexpected: Town officials discovered a mishap in design changes that resulted in a door being deleted from a room inside the court building.

As a result, court employees are only able to gain access to their office area by way of a back door. Some expressed concerns that it could be a safety hazard, leaving employees trapped if the back exit was ever blocked in case of a fire.

Reuwsaat said the door also is needed for court employees to gain access to the video courtroom without having to go through the primary courtroom while it's in session. The door is now being constructed.

Outside the entrance to the administration portion of the complex, a large plaque decorates the stone wall. On it are the names of several town officials, including Bobby Sutton Jr., who resigned from his post as mayor April 30 after he was indicted on federal charges of conspiracy and attempted extortion.

Sutton, who pleaded not guilty along with his acquaintance Richard Westfall last week in U.S. District Court, did not show up to the dedication of the complex, but council members expressed disappointment that he couldn't be there.

"Sadly, we are missing a member of the team," Councilman Ed Honea said.

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