MERIDEN — For the second time this year, the city has come in over budget for a proposed banquet facility at the municipal golf course and is again working to edit the project down to meet budget.
An architectural firm hired by the city’s Banquet Facility Committee presented the committee with a cost estimate this week of over $1.9 million, well above the City Council-set budget of $1.3 million to $1.5 million
“I thought we were pretty clear from interview to now, including in the (request-for-proposal), that the total budget was $1.5 million as a maximum,” City Councilor Brian Daniels, a member of the banquet committee, told the firm at the meeting this week.
Mayor Kevin Scarpati also expressed frustration.
“To most people, it probably looks like we're wasting our money,” Scarpati said after the meeting “We gave what we thought were very specific numbers and it looks as though the firm just ignored that.”
Thomas Arcari, owner of Farmington-based QA+M Architecture, told city councilors at a meeting this week that he was under the impression that the budget of $1.5 million only included “hard costs,” or construction costs, not “soft costs,” which includes other fees and contingencies associated with the project. Arcari’s total project cost estimate of $1,948,500 included $1.475 million in construction costs and $473,500 in “soft costs.”
The city agreed to pay the firm $111,000 to design the project, though Daniels noted that payment is being made in phases and that the firm is only being paid $15,000 for the current schematic design phase. ‘Disappointing’
The city decided to hire an architectural firm to design a banquet facility costing between $1.3 and $1.5 million after city councilors did not like the appearance of the facility that would have been built under the project’s original budget of $875,000.
When the city put out a request for proposals over the summer for a banquet facility under $875,000, only one construction company, LaRosa Building Group, submitted a bid and their proposal was to build a $1.6 million facility.
The city’s Banquet Facility Committee worked with LaRosa to whittle the project cost down to around $1 million, however, the City Council voted against increasing the $875,000 budget because some councilors felt the $1 million facility was nothing more than a “metal shed.” The city then went back to the drawing board and gave the project a second shot, this time hiring an architectural firm to design the project under a specific budget before putting it out to bid.
Now, the city finds itself again having to reduce the scope of the project to meet budget.
“It’s disappointing to have us go through all this and sit through several meetings and have several conversations and to be not much further than we were six to eight months ago,” Scarpati said.
City Manager Tim Coon noted it’s common for municipalities to have to adjust projects to fit a budget.
“You have to make decisions along the path in order to reach the final project,” Coon said.
In order to meet the $1.5 million budget, Arcari told the committee that he would need to shrink the size of the facility’s event space, which doesn’t include bathrooms, closets, and other features, from 40 feet by 72 feet to 40 feet by 60 feet. That, in addition to about $175,000 in cuts the committee made this week to the project's soft costs, would make it possible to get under $1.5 million, Arcari said.
The original 40-by-72-footprint would have been enough room to seat between 160 and 200 people and also would have left some room for bar and buffet areas. Arcari said a smaller facility would still have room to seat the same number of people, however, the city would sacrifice space for a bar, buffet and dance area.
“As your design consultant, I actually think the (40 by 72 design) is appropriate as it currently exists … I hate to recommend that you reduce, but to meet your budget requirement, based on all the information we have now, we may need to make the building smaller,” he told councilors at the meeting this week. “There’s no way for us to reduce cost without reducing scope.”Support, concerns
Coon, Daniels, and City Councilor Bob Williams, who also sits on the banquet committee, all expressed optimism that a smaller facility would still be adequate and also noted the new banquet building would be a significant improvement over the golf course’s current 40-by-60-foot tent structure, where events and golf tournaments are currently held.
“I continue to think it's going to be a project that people are going to be very happy with and they're going to be proud to have in the city of Meriden,” Daniels said.
The city began pursuing the banquet project earlier this year to replace the tent, which is set up each golf season next to Violi’s Restaurant at the city-owned Hunter Golf Course. Officials have argued that the new facility will generate revenue in years to come by attracting more golf tournaments. The city will also be able to charge more in lease payments to Violi’s, which will have exclusive catering rights for events held at the banquet hall.
“I think it’s going to be a real positive project for the city with the return on investment,” Williams said, “and this is something that if we push it out one year, two years, the price is going to escalate and we’re going to continue to lose tournaments.”
Scarpati, on the other hand, believes the city would be “settling” by moving forward with the reduced-size banquet hall. Scarpati said he already expressed concerns about the original event space of 40 by 72 feet.
Scarpati also said he feels as though the banquet committee “misled” the public somewhat at a public informational meeting last week during which the architectural firm presented project renderings. The renderings included several additional features, including a cupola and a divider wall, that members of the public responded well to, but have since had to be removed due to cost.
At the time of the presentation, the architectural firm didn’t have cost estimates for the project, Arcari said, adding it’s not uncommon for a firm to present renderings to see what a client likes, then make changes accordingly before receiving a cost estimate.
The committee, Coon said, scheduled the informational meeting to be open and transparent about the project.
“We wanted the public to see what the designs looked like and it’s one of those situations where you can't win,” Coon said. “Everyone begs for transparency and then you provide it and you get criticized for doing that.”
Scarpati said he doesn’t fault QA+M Architecture for giving the presentation before receiving cost estimates, but blames the banquet committee for setting what he called an “expedited timeline” to get the project approved.
In its request for proposals, the committee set a timeline of five weeks for the project to be designed and approved by the City Council.
Coon and Daniels said this was done to make sure the city had more detailed designs drawn and a construction company selected in time for construction to begin Oct. 1 next year and be completed by the start of the 2021 golf season.
They also wanted the designs done fast enough for the City Council to approve them before newly elected councilors are sworn in at the beginning of next month.
“The thought was, ‘Look, if it can be ready for a vote and all the information is there to make an informed decision, then we should do that because this is the sitting body that had all the information,’ ” Daniels said. Daniels, a councilor since 2007, did not seek re-election and will retire from the council next month.
Daniels, Coon, and Williams rejected Scarpati’s assertion that the committee “rushed” the approval process for the banquet facility. They said all 11 architectural firms that submitted bids to complete the designs were aware of and OK with the 5-week timetable.
They also noted that the construction project is relatively simple and something the committee has spent several months researching and contemplating.
“The committee has been working on this for a while,” Coon said. He added the five-member committee is mostly comprised of volunteers, and “if we can avoid having to take up too much of their time, the more the better.”