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.