Town hall renovation 27 per cent higher than expected

Darrell Cole
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Final cost comes in $230,000 over budget

Amherst’s renovation of the Dominion Public Building for use as town hall cost $230,000 more than the $709,000 originally budgeted for the project.  

AMHERST – Amherst’s renovation of the Dominion Public Building for use as town hall finished 27 per cent higher than originally budgeted.

The town released the total cost of the project during a special meeting on Friday, indicating a number of factors led to the project being $230,000 higher than that $709,000 that was budgeted for the project.

“Although early on in the project we were on time and on budget, a number of factors caused us to ultimately exceed the originally estimated costs for the project,” Amherst’s director of Operational Services Ben Pitman said.

He said it’s important to note the project was completely financed from a combination of withdrawals from reserves and operations and that no debt was incurred.

“It can also be said that today we are operating from a modernized, bright, spacious facility that we can all be proud of,” Pitman said. “We have proactively addressed the deterioration over time of an historic building that deserves a continued prominent place in the future of the town.”

Pitman said electrical construction costs were more than $100,000 over budget, while audio/visual and cabling portion of the project was $55,000 higher than the original estimate.

“The tender for electrical construction costs exceeded the budget estimate by over $67,000. While that presented an early challenge it was on that we thought we could overcome thorugh savings in other areas,” Pitman said. “Unfortunately, the anticipated savings in other areas were offset by changes in scope of the project beyond originally envisioned.”

Pitman said AV and cabling was originally $21,000 over the original estimate, but as the project progressed it became evident some items in the original plan were not adequate to provide the town “with a technically excellent facility.”

He said cameras had to be upgraded and monitors were added, all with additional wiring charges and costs for controllers and hardware.

Cabinetry, heating, ventilation and air conditioning and controls, painting and flooring were about $3,000 under the original estimate, but general construction was over budget by about $77,000.

“Renovating an old building does not come without surprises,” Pitman said. “We experienced unanticipated costs in the area of security, hazardous materials scan and removal an building code issues.

Pitman said one of the lessons learned from the project was making sure a complete analysis is completed before moving forward. He said better knowledge of electrical and building codes is another lesson. He also suggested next time hiring a general contractor.

“It might not save any money, but it would control the money that’s spent on a project,” he said.

CAO Greg Herrett said the town opted to do a hazardous materials scan to ensure the health and safety of its employees. He said some asbestos around piping and mold in the basement was identified and removed. This cost was not anticipated at first, but was something that had to be done considering the building’s age.

Coun. Terry Rhindress is happy with the finished project, even though it cost more than it should have.

“When you move into an old building you never know what you’re going to find, but this is a beautiful building and from the comments of people at the open house they think it’s awesome,” Rhindress said. “This building will last another 100 years. We did the right thing because I don’t know what would happen in another three to five years if we did nothing. It’s like a car, you have to put money into it if you want it to last.”

Coun. Robert Bird concurred saying council moved to save the building.

“It was  up to  us to make sure this building remained for the people of Amherst to enjoy for the next 100 years,” Bird said. “Yes, we went over a bit, but I can live with that. The right decision was made.”

After the meeting, Mayor Robert Small said the cost of the project was more expensive than hoped, but suggested it was worth the cost. The mayor said he would make the same decision again because it preserved a piece of history.

“The point is we were trying to understand what it would cost and operate and manage those costs. If someone had of told us it was going to be $939,000 and it made sense from a budgeting perspective I’m confident council would have approved it as well. It was all about saving this building. Council is unanimous on that.”

He said council decided to add to the project and that led to the cost overrun.

“Stuff was over above what the original number was supposed to cover,” the mayor said. “We ended up with a building that’s going to last us a long time.”

The town paid $300,000 for the building and the neighbouring Bank of Montreal building in December 2010, deciding in November 2011 to convert it for use as town hall and giving previous tenant Tantramar Theatre notice to leave by May 2012.

Twitter: @ADNdarrell

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Recent comments

  • Larry Cove
    March 07, 2013 - 11:14

    Concerned To take over and renovate the Old Post Office is neither here nor there. The issue is the cost? To be that far over on the construction budget is unacceptable. The cost should have been determined before hand. Also, if the town employees did a lot of the work, there wages should be added to the cost of the project. This decision goes along with selling the police station property for $5 instead of the higher offer. Both stink and the person or persons making these decisions should be held accountable. I think we need a town manager that is going to promote the town and bring in some industries and real jobs and not just low paying part time work at retail outlets. Employees being paid by taxpayers should have to live and pay taxes to the town. Time to stop wasting and spending tax dollars like it doesn't matter and spend the money on projects that need to be done (streets, sidewalks).

  • appalled...again
    March 04, 2013 - 20:31

    Is anyone really surprised? It's a shame really we can't have a new election and boot all but Balcum out. These group of self serving people were so obviously trying to get into this building before the last election that giving themselves nice new offices was more important then making sure the people of Amherst had a functional police department. In case anyone forgot, the police are still inside the top floor of the library and have to share facilities with the RCMP while the town of amherst tries to figure out a way to put them in a building that was already deemed unacceptable by a company they hired to do the assessment and then disagreed with. I can't believe in this day and age that elected officials would put their own personal needs of a larger office above the safety and security of the very people they were elected to represent. I would suggest that it is high time that someone at town hall forked over the real costs in relation to town hall that include the amount of overtime we paid staff to complete this self serving monolith. As someone who was born and raised here, I can see very easily that this town is slowly dying from a cancer within. I don't think this bunch of elected officials has the smarts or the know how to fix the problems to get amherst back on its feet. its time to bring in a town manager that knows how to manage. maybe the next town manager will pay into the tax base here by living here. herrett doesn't mind spending taxpayers money on a fancy new office. why would he? he doesn't live here. he has no money invested in it. it's just a job to him. its time to bring in people who care about making a difference. who care about making amherst a thriving community like it was when i was a kid.

    March 04, 2013 - 10:51

    How many hours were buried in this project because town staffers did the labour: evenings, overnight, weekends, holidays? How much in overtime was spent on town employees? Are these numbers actually reflected in the overrun or are they conveniently buried in staffing costs? How many local trades and suppliers were used? At least one resident took pictures of a drywall supplier from moncton devlivering priducts. Are we being told the truth here or a somewhat altered version. Glad they can live with it, the rest of us are sick and tired of these schemes to spend our money. The local economy swirls around the drain and these councillors and administration spend like drunken sailors.

  • short term pain
    March 04, 2013 - 08:03

    I admit, I'm concerned about the cost overrun but this should have been expected when renovating a historic building and it should have been budgeted for. I know from renovating historic houses that low-balling a renovation estimate never ever works out. There's always some unknown that will bite you in the rear end. That being said, I approve of renovating and preserving this building - the town's downtown character is defined by major buildings like this. Go to many downtowns in New England which has historic buildings of similar age to the Maritimes and you'll see that they have used state and federal assistance to preserve historic buildings and repurpose them. Amherst in the 21st century will continue to be defined by its downtown and it's because of buildings like the Dominion Public Building, the train station, the baptist church, the bank buildings, etc. They are the link to our prosperous past and will define how we claw our way back to that prosperity in the future.

  • Tottally Frustrated
    March 03, 2013 - 13:08

    Well well, all the rumors were true, and the tax payers who visited our new town hall requesting budget information and were refused, have been right along. I would also be very surprised if these costs did not include the true expenditures for town employees ie. time off in lieu of over time hours, time off I argue is still money. In addition the town now has no warranty on this work , where had it been conducted by a contractor, there would be some recourse. Thank you Sean Cheverie, a well respected business owner and concerned citizen for coming forth, while others are fearful of repercussions if they speak out. Thank you Transcontinental for this format where concerned citizens and business owners can speak out with out fear of just that, and thank you former mayor Gerry Hallie, who manged to bring in more industry than this these folks could ever dream of. The truth is we don't need additional businesses we need industry, right now retail in supporting retail and while the town claims to be holding on population, the truth is this many be because the County population is declining due to vast numbers of seniors who are selling their homes and moving town, while our young families are continuing to leave for employment. Please tell taxpayers what you do to recruit industry and what you do to market & promote the town of Amherst. What is unfortunate, is that taxpayers did not come out and ask these questions prior to the election,but it is still not too late to share your frustration and demand more transparency and accountability. Do not wait till 2016 to put you face out there and ask the questions, start going to meetings now, start asking where you money is being spent and make these councilors, which were elected to do just that , stand up and start demanding change, not more to the same.

  • Cumberlander
    March 02, 2013 - 18:09

    I am all for preserving history, but just think what the citizens of Amherst could have done with a $1 million on roadways, sidewalks repairs, and so forth. Let's just hope desks for employees in the new Town Hall did not reach $10,000 each.

  • Sean Cheverie
    March 02, 2013 - 17:21

    I have not had an opportunity to visit our new Town Hall but by all accounts it sounds wonderful. I found the previous office space and council chambers very nice and appeared to serve residents, businesses and staff very well. It is disappointing, but not surprising, to hear the project was significantly over budget. Governments everywhere have a habit of making such announcements and we continue to accept. Personally, I find this very disturbing as a taxpayer and fully anticipate these costs will be reflected in my future property taxes at some point. This is another great example of elected officials and their staff spending "others peoples' money". It's bad enough that the project was 32 % over budget ($ 230,000/$790,000) not 27% as stated but even more bothersome that Town of Amherst Staffers and Elected Officials all the way to Mayor Small are quick to provide excuses for these unacceptable cost overruns. It is obvious that not enough homework was done before committing to this project. It appears, for example, that a decision to do an environmental scan was made after the project was well underway. In today's world of construction, environmental concerns are addressed upfront - any prudent lender would demand this. Perhaps all involved were simply too eager to move to nicer offices and not really focused on costs - after all it is "other peoples' money".

  • Taxed-Out
    March 02, 2013 - 13:45

    Quelle Surprise!!!

  • Concerned
    March 02, 2013 - 13:19

    I'm glad to hear council kissing up and saying how great the building is. I have had a tour of the place and all I see is a old building. The work that was done inside was very poor, the dry walling was bad the flooring in places was real bad, There was trim that wasn't finished . So we will have to do it all over again in 10 years if we are lucky. The Town council and the CAO should be able to hold their heads up high for this one.

  • Chris Trenholm
    March 02, 2013 - 12:01

    What a useless waste of money - We already had a town hall in an operational building. How can you praise yourself for saving a "historic building" which is surrounded by buildings much older - whom are falling apart at a quicker rate. Why did you remove our towns incredible Tantramar Theatres - basically kicked them out into the street - just to take over their building? WHAT POSSIBLE POSITIVE REASONS could you use to explain why you've wasted over a million dollars when so many people in this city are without work - and how old buildings are falling apart left right and centre. The town council doesn't give a rats ass about saving any of the historical buildings - and I think this is a complete and utter waste of money.

    • Beverly LeBlanc
      March 04, 2013 - 16:01

      A mere $230,000 over budget and no debt incurred! We have lost $230,000 from our reserves that could have been used in alot of other places in town. I agree with preserving old buildings but do your homework before you start a project. I'm sure if the money was coming from your own pockets you wouldn't be as happy with the result. You all should be happy for awhile with your generous wage increases and your over budget Town Hall. Can't wait to see what you have planned for us next!!

    • honker
      March 04, 2013 - 20:33

      Yes Chris a real human tradegy. Do you think Amherst will ever recover? What shall we do? Did it ever occcur to you that not a lot happens in the town of Amherst but perhaps there is something you don't realize, people called tourists, come to see the old town residences and buildings of which the old post office is one. Some will stop to have a lunch maybe pick something up at a store. This is one of the few things the town has going for it ,so to destroy it wouldn't be a good idea.