You Can’t  Fight City Hall

The City Council has yet to approve a budget for City Hall, yet the project continues to lurch forward

Councilors George Brown, Greg Evans and Chris Pryor do not recall the Eugene City Council ever voting to move into the “construction documents and bid the project” phase for a new City Hall.

Yet buried in a June 1 Register-Guard article “Lane County eyes bigger chunk of Eugene’s City Hall block for new courthouse” was a comment from city spokeswoman Jan Bohman: The City Hall “project team is currently working with the direction we received from (the City) Council on April 27, which is to complete construction documents and bid the project so that we have firm costs to present for their consideration in July.”

Brown wonders how the City Hall project could move to this middle phase when the City Council has yet to approve designs or approve a budget, one that has ballooned from $15 million to potentially $25 million or higher.

“The project is still not transparent,” Brown says of City Hall. The city manager is “doing this exactly backwards.”

Pryor tells EW that he sees no problem with moving forward to the next phase.

“There was no specific motion to direct the city manager to prepare bids,” he says. “I didn’t think we needed one. I don’t know how we would expect to get accurate cost estimates without doing bid documents.”

The remaining councilors did not respond to a request for comment on whether they recall voting to move City Hall to the next phase.

Confused? Let’s back up.

The City Council is technically the boss of City Manager Jon Ruiz (not an elected official), who oversees all city staff. The city manager takes direction from the City Council, not vice versa, and communicates that direction to staff. When it comes to City Hall, however, it’s become unclear who is directing whom.

Secondly, a capital project like City Hall typically has five phases. Boiled down they look like this: 1) initial design; 2) refined design; 3) the “construction documents” phase, or when the architects create detailed requirements for construction, which are used to secure bids and permits; 4) bidding and negotiation; 5) construction.

“That’s pretty standard,” confirms Matt Tinder, American Institute of Architects spokesman.

On April 27 — the work session to which Bohman refers — the City Council voted on four areas relating to City Hall, including rejecting private offices for councilors and voting to forego building to the highest seismic standard. The council also approved building City Hall to LEED Gold energy standards and gave the nod to certain “civic quality” standards, like using salvaged materials from the old City Hall.

“Those are potential elements of the project that we voted on,” Brown says. “Nothing ever said ‘proceed to construction documents phase without finalizing the budget.’”

Brown sought answers about the City Hall process and status and, on May 27, emailed City Hall Project Manager Michael Penwell — cc-ing the council, city manager and mayor — with six questions regarding the project’s budgeting and phasing.

Brown says Penwell has yet to respond, but on June 2 Mayor Kitty Piercy responded to answer one of Brown’s questions to Penwell, writing that the council had approved a series of motions April 27.

“Those motions gave the final direction that staff and the architects needed to complete the documents for the bidding process,” Piercy writes. “Staff explained during that work session that based on the final direction, bid documents would be finalized and sent out; bids would be received and reviewed by the general contractor; and the general contractor would provide the city with a not-to-exceed construction price.”

She continues: “Staff then would bring to council that proposed construction price so that council could decide whether to approve moving forward with construction.”

The mayor tells EW she is in Beijing and unavailable for further comment.

On June 5, Brown responded to the mayor via email:

“Staff and city manager are putting the cart (soliciting bids) before the horse (setting a project budget and identifying funding sources),” he wrote. “The budget and funding should be approved by council first; then the architects, construction manager and subcontractors all know where they stand and how to make the bids fit into the monies available. Otherwise, council will have to tailor the budget to the total of subcontractor’s apparent low bids approved by the construction manager/general contractor.”

As for an April 27 motion to move the City Hall project to the “construction documents” phase, Brown says, “I’m sure that no one ever made a motion like that.”

Councilor Evans seconds that notion.

“My recollection of that meeting is the same as Councilor Brown’s,” Evans writes to EW. “My understanding was that the council would receive a ‘report’ on the revised costs estimates for the [city hall] project. I am certainly not ready to move the project forward without more information and a full vetting of our options.”

Brown tells EW he believes that the project is still in the design development phase.

“You don’t tell a contractor to get bids when you don’t even know what the budget is or where the money is going to come from,” he says. “We obviously have to approve a budget before bidding and construction.”

The city staff will present on City Hall to the council July 11.  

To see all of Councilor Brown’s questions to Project Manager Penwell, read below:

1. My first question is, are we in fact in the “Design Development” phase?

2. Why hasn’t Council met to discuss and approve a project budget before Design Development proceeds so that the architects, the engineer and the owner know exactly how much money they have to work with?

3. When will Council meet to discuss and approve the final project budget? I don’t see any City Hall meetings scheduled in the Tentative Working Agenda. Obviously, phases iii Construction Documents, iv. Bidding and v. Construction Observation cannot proceed without a budget approved by the Council/Owner.

4. Who authorized McKenzie Commercial to do pre-construction sit preparation and hold a pre-bidding meeting with potential sub-contractors?

Rowell Brokaw signed two contracts with the City; a so-called “Bridge Contract” and a standard AIA contract with amendments. Both contracts have provisions for an architectural cost consultant to provide detailed cost estimates at specific intervals. The City also retained McKenzie Commercial as Construction Manager/General Contractor to prepare estimates and to monitor costs. Yet Council has never seen any such contractually required documents.

5. Please provide Council with hard copies of every project cost estimate that Rowell Brokaw and McKenzie Commercial were required to generate.

6. Please provide Council in line item detail all amounts paid to date to Rowell Brokaw and McKenzie Commercial.

Every architect, contractor and engineer I have spoken with has told me that the standard Architect and Engineering fee for a Class A office building is 10% of construction costs. Looking at the Current Estimated Budget that staff recently provided, we see that 10% of the estimated construction costs would be $1.8 Million. Yet in this estimated budget, Rowell Brokaw and McKenzie Commercial are slated to receive $4.36 Million, or 23% of construction costs.

7. Why are RB and MC budgeted to receive an extra $2.48 Million, almost two and a half times above the norm?