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Council looks to new plan for a less expensive public safety building

By Staff | Mar 22, 2008

Cape Coral residents soundly rejected a $110 million bond last April, sending plans for a new public safety facility back to the drawing board. After eight months of work by a citizens committee, two proposals, and more than eight weeks of debate by the city council, there appears to be a new way forward.

On Monday, council gave Balfour Beatty permission to finish design and solicit bids on a 100,000- square-foot facility at the VK site for a maximum price of $23 million. Elected officials still would have to approve the project once again after the details are fleshed out, but many on the dais believe that the focus now should be on getting the building out of the ground.

“My main focus as a council person was to get this council off the dime to do something,” said Councilmember Dolores Bertolini, who has been the proposal’s strongest advocate. “Would I have preferred that it would have been all solidified then? Sure, but there were too many variables that have to be addressed.”

Former citizens committee chairman Elmer Tabor applauded the move by council. While he still believes the McGarvey proposal, to place a new police headquarters at the Mid Cape Corporate center, was the best way to go, he called the Balfour Beatty plan is the “second best option.”

“The Balfour Beatty and ADG proposal was, at one point, the best one we had on the table and the committee was extremely happy with that,” he said.

McGarvey withdrew its proposal last Friday.

Prior to council’s decision Monday, Tabor took the elected officials to task for their split agendas and their constantly debating the subject but not taking any action on the public safety building.

“Check your egos at the door, create a team that will take us to the future,” he said.

But after the vote to go forward with the Balfour plan, Tabor was all smiles. He lauded the council for finally pulling the trigger and taking a stand on the new facility.

“To me that was a huge success,” he said. “They proved me wrong with that decision.”

The next steps

As architects at ADG work on the design, which the firm said would take four to five months, city staff is left to the task of crunching the numbers and determining the new bond price.

“We need to go back to the drawing board,” said city spokeswoman Connie Barron.

While the building and site work will not exceed $23 million, the cost of the design work and the building’s furnishings and equipment have yet to been worked out. The cost of the land, which the city acquired via quick take in late 2006, is yet to be decided.

An $8.2 million settlement agreement reached in January through mediation is still subject to council approval. It is up for consideration Monday. The city also will have to pay court costs and attorney fees; those figures have yet to be determined.

With the resounding defeat of the general obligation bond still fresh in the minds of staff, the city is likely to finance the project with a revenue bond. That bond does not require approval via referendum, only a vote of the city council, though it does carry a slightly higher interest rate. Some vocal critics have argued that future incoming residents should pay the bulk of the new facility’s cost, but Tabor argued that growth will pay for itself as people move to Cape Coral.

“The pie is going to get larger, there are going to be more people paying on that revenue bond,” said Tabor.

Balfour Beatty Vice President Alan Silver assured council Monday that every job in the construction process will be bid out to contractors on a competitive basis. Following Monday’s session, he held firm to a pledge to complete the project by June 2009.

Though he strongly backed the McGarvey proposal, Mayor Eric Feichthaler is glad to see the process moving along and is looking forward to the competitive bidding process which Silver assured the council would take place for each segment of the project.

“If we come out better than the McGarvey deal, that’s my goal right now,” he said.

Not a done deal?

Debate over the public safety building may be far from over, however, if two “swing” voters do not like the bid Balfour Beatty submits. Both councilmen Bill Deile and Eric Grill voiced “ayes” after discovering that the vote would not hand a signed contract over to Balfour Beatty. At Monday’s meeting, Grill said he wanted to see the price tag slashed by several million dollars when the bids come back or he will not support final authorization.

“It will definitely come below that,” said Bertolini. “How far below? I can’t even predict.”

By Wednesday, Deile was already looking for a way to take the submitted design out to a competitive bid, arguing that he needs a better way to determine if the Balfour Beatty proposal is solid.

“If they come back with $19 million, maybe that’s a good number, I don’t know,” he said. “I’m not in the construction business. The only way I can tell is to get comparisons.”

Under the governing statutes, Deile’s plan is unworkable unless the council denies Balfour Beatty’s final bid. But if that reality shakes his confidence in the proposal he voted for on Monday, the project could sit on the razor’s edge heading towards the final vote.

Bertolini expressed hope that the council will fully back the decision it made earlier this week, especially now that it has made a verbal commitment to Balfour Beatty and ADG.

“We finally have made a decision in one direction and hopefully we can continue to support that direction,” she said.