Armory renovation proves too costly

April 11, 1994|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Sun Staff Writer

Westminster City Council members had planned to relieve overcrowding in City Hall by moving the finance department into the former National Guard Armory on Longwell Avenue.

Then they found out how much it would cost.

Architect Martha Jones' preliminary cost estimate came in two weeks ago at $1.2 million, more than three times the $350,000 budgeted for the project.

A major reason for the additional cost was that the finance department's space needs could be met only by putting it on the first and second floors, said Thomas B. Beyard, city planning director. The city hadn't proposed any renovations on the second floor as part of the project. The second-floor renovation added about 6,000 square feet to the cost at $55 to $60 a square foot, Mr. Beyard said.

He said that to avoid putting recreation offices in the basement under the gym, the architect planned a small addition at the rear of the building that would have added another 3,000 to 4,000 square feet.

Duct work to heat office areas, individual control units to regulate temperatures and efforts to zone air conditioning added $125,000 to the cost, Mr. Beyard said. A recommended elevator for the disabled was also a major item at $80,000.

The consensus among council members is that the estimated cost is prohibitively high and that to go ahead with the project would be, in Councilman Stephen R. Chapin Sr.'s term, "ludicrous."

The price tag prompted council members to consider renting office space.

The council hasn't made a formal decision to scrap the finance department move into the former armory, now called the Longwell Municipal Center. Mr. Beyard said he expected council members to debate options as they put together the city's 1994-1995 budget for adoption in May.

Options include:

* Accept the $1.2 million design, which includes: finance offices on the first floor at the front entrance, separated from the gym by a hall and stairway; additional finance offices on the second floor; recreation facilities in the basement to include weight and aerobics rooms, men's and women's locker rooms, and a pool room.

This option appears headed for the scrap heap.

* Approve a scaled-back plan to expand the recreation program with locker and exercise rooms in the basement, and look for other space for the finance department. If the council endorses this option, it will be required to include access for the disabled in the renovation plan.

This option appears to have the best chance of acceptance.

* Do nothing. This option is probably not realistic, Mr. Beyard said. The finance department has 1,200 square feet of space in City Hall, excluding common areas such as halls and restrooms. The department's needs were projected at 2,800 square feet in the renovation design.

The finance staff "is crammed in against one another" in City Hall, said department director Stephen V. Dutterer. The department lacks storage space, has to borrow the council chamber to provide work space for auditors, has no office for the hTC director and no space for future additional employees, he said.

City representatives looking for office space to rent will find a balanced market, said Michael L. Mason, commercial real estate specialist with O'Conor, Piper & Flynn.

Mr. Mason said prices generally range from $8 to $10 a square foot plus utilities for converted older buildings on Main Street, to $11 or $12 a square foot plus a share of utilities for what he called "Class A" space with parking and accessibility for the disabled.

City government currently pays $10.40 a square foot plus a share of utilities for leased space in the Winchester Exchange, 15 E. Main St.

The Winchester building has 3,200 square feet of vacant space. The former J. C. Penney building on West Main Street, which is for sale, has 19,000 square feet in a basement, first floor, mezzanine and three offices, said Long and Foster Realtors agent Gordon Jenkins.

Moving the finance department to rented office space on Main Street would mean scattering city government offices in four or five separate buildings. Council members don't see a problem in the dispersal.

"Initially, I was a proponent of having everything in one building," Mr. Chapin said. But then, he added, Council President Kenneth A. Yowan had convinced him that use of modern electronic equipment would eliminate some of the problems of using different buildings. "We can network the computers, we have fax machines, a lot of things we didn't have 10 years ago," he said.

Councilwoman Rebecca A. Orenstein said the council is likely to look for rental space rather than build a new building. "I don't see us going to new construction because one of the promises in the [1991 election] campaign was that we would not get into major construction," she said.

Mr. Dutterer said his first concern is to get additional space for the finance department. "That's the most important part of being able to operate efficiently," he said.

He said having his office in a different location from other city offices will cause some inconvenience for those who have to pay a fee at his office and then pick up forms or permits in other offices.

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