BOONE — The Watauga County Board of Commissioners planned a groundbreaking ceremony for Oct. 16 for its community recreation center as it prepares to begin demolition in the coming weeks.
The county received its demolition permit approval on Sept. 17. County Manager Deron Geouque said the county will send out its asbestos abatement notice on Sept. 19 and will hopefully receive notice in a few weeks of its approval to move forward with demolition.
The recreation center will be located on the site of the 3.5-acre property of the former Appalachian State University’s Business Affairs Annex (also known as the old Lowes property) at the corner of State Farm Road and Hunting Lane. The facility will ultimately replace the Watauga County Parks and Recreation swim complex at 231 Complex Drive.
The project is planned to have four multi-use courts, a competition swimming pool, a leisure pool, locker rooms, a walking track, a space for some gym equipment and party rooms for public use.
The project’s architect, Chad Roberson with Clark Nexsen, updated the commissioners on the status of the project at the board’s Sept. 18 meeting.
Roberson went over the guaranteed maximum price of the project with the commissioners — which is a $3.6 million increase over what was planned.
According to Geouque, the GMP is $32,937,626 with a total project budget of $38,547,395.78. This budget includes all costs for the project, including additional items such as furniture, fixtures, equipment and technology, Roberson said.
“This gives you an ‘open the door and start operating’ budget,” Roberson said.
Roberson added that the main reasons for the increases in pricing were increases in the cost for grading work, masonry, concrete, structural steel, drywall and pool equipment.
To look at the budget, Roberson said agencies looked at 100 different items on a budget tracker and was able to adjust $4 million in the budget. This is not counting the $3.6 million the county is still over budget.
“There were a lot of hard decisions that had to be made,” Roberson said. “The end result of what we have is a very high quality building. It has been scrutinized from every angle by multiple different people so we make sure we’re getting all of the value that we can out of that budget.”
The commissioners were given two options to mitigate the project’s cost increase. Option one allowed the commissioners to cut the project back in scope by removing two of the gyms from the plans. The plan would be to construct the additional two gyms at a later date which would also reduce the walking track and “will cost more to construct in the future,” according to Geouque.
The second option for the commissioners was to appropriate the additional $3.6 million from the general fund balance. According to Geouque, this would still leave the county with an unaudited fund balance in the range of 30 to 33 percent of yearly expenditures.
Chairman John Welch mentioned that the county is mandated to have an 8 percent fund balance, so the 30 to 33 percent would still be more than it’s mandated to keep.
A unanimous vote by the commissioners passed the second option to use the county fund balance to mitigate the increase.
The county will be entering into a financing contract agreement for $20 million with the Watauga Public Facilities Corporation. The corporation will assist the county in accessing the public bond markets, according to Geouque.
The commissioners will also be putting funds toward the project — as well as Watauga County Schools capital needs — from the current $0.353 property tax (per $100 valuation) that was increased in June 2017. In addition to these two funding options, the county is utilizing $15 million that it has accumulated over the past several years.
Harper General Contractors is serving as the construction manager for the project. Matt Johnson, a staff member from Harper, told the commissioners that his company has put forth 14 months of work and more than 500 manhours throughout the process of this project.
Harper broke up the project into 36 bid packages. Johnson said Harper staff personally called and solicited information from 417 subcontractors and vendors for this project. Commissioner Billy Kennedy said he wanted to commend the organization on its strategy to break the project into smaller bid packages so smaller contractors could bid as well.
More than 15 percent of the bid packages so far have been awarded to local subcontractors and vendors within a 50-mile radius, Johnson said. Commissioner Perry Yates said that he appreciated that Harper staff were putting an emphasis on local contractors.
“This board has been really huge on using local people for the project, and so far since I’ve been old enough to remember … you guys are the only ones to put forth effort to use local people like you have,” Yates said.
Roberson said Clark Nexsen’s goal is to submit a total package of drawings to Harper on Oct. 5 where Harper will subsequently seek out its final bids. Clark Nexsen and Harper worked together to determine the historical average of weather in the area — especially the winter months. The average of unworkable days estimates to about eight days a month, Roberson said.
The hope is to be able to move the project ahead by about three months with an expected completion date of March 2020, according to Roberson.