Library price tags offer distinct choice for Renton's voters
By DEAN RADFORD
Renton Reporter Editor
July 20, 2012 · 12:31 PM
There are two key figures facing Renton voters when they decide where to locate the downtown library: $9.3 million and $13.1 million.
Just don’t hold anyone to them. Those numbers will change with time, construction climate and what contractors may find in unknown or hidden costs when (if, for now) they start renovating the library over the Cedar River.
The $9.3 million is the estimated cost to build the new state-of-the art, King County Library System library just west of the Piazza. The figure is fairly firm because there’s relatively little uncertainty in a building designed and built from scratch.
The $13.1 million is KCLS’s most current estimate about the cost to renovate the library over the Cedar. According to KCLS, that cost is about 38 percent higher than an earlier budget because it would be more complicated to permit.
“A cost estimate is just that, an estimate,” said KCLS Director Bill Ptacek in an interview.
Mayor Denis Law said in an interview that KCLS’s estimates are the most accurate because of the system’s decades-long experience in building libraries and determining their costs.
Neither figure includes the roughly $1.6 million KCLS will spend to equip and supply the new library. Nor does the Cedar River figure include the estimated $400,000 cost to set up a temporary library during construction; in fact KCLS has yet to decide whether it would set up a temporary one.
Money has become a key issue in the debate about where to locate the new downtown library leading up to the Aug. 7 vote on Proposition 1. It was hotly debated by the Renton City Council; council members opted not to include a cost figure for each option in the ballot title’s 75 words.
The figures are included in the longer Explanatory Statement in the Voters’ Pamphlet. The $9.3 million figure is there, but the figure for the Cedar River library renovation is $10.1 million, one of the earlier estimates.
Law said in an interview he would have preferred a reference to construction costs in the ballot title’s wording, so that taxpayers could have answered specifically which library they were willing to pay for.
Renton’s taxpayers are paying for the construction of the new libraries downtown and in the Highlands from the proceeds of an $18 million bond issue, under the agreement with KCLS. KCLS will own and operate both libraries and is taking the lead in developing the budgets and managing construction.
About $1 million has already been spent to buy the Big 5 site next to the Piazza and for design work for the library there.
Right now, there’s not enough money from those bonds to pay for a $13.1 million renovation of the Cedar River library, said Law. The City Council would have options to make up what KCLS says is a $3.6 million shortfall, he said.
Those options could include extending the bond or sitting down with KCLS to talk about the library’s design, he said.
“Anti KCLS people will want you to believe that they (KCLS) are just pulling numbers out of the air and that’s unfortunate because I don’t think that’s really the case,” Law said.
Stuart Avery, spokesman for the citizens group championing the Cedar River site, Citizens for Cedar River Library, said some of the estimated costs are for furnishings and other “bells and whistles, which can be adjusted to off-set costs.”
“In the end, I am hopeful that voters will look at the value of having a larger library in a location that can better serve all KCLS patrons and remain the cornerstone of our great downtown community and park system,” he said.
“After all the bills are paid, we will be living with this important decision for decades to come,” Avery said.
Ryan McIrvin, the spokesman for the group, People for the Piazza Park Library, said the independent studies done by the City of Renton and KCLS both show that the library west of the Piazza will cost less than the library over the Cedar.
“This should come as no surprise to Renton voters,” he said. “Both intuitively and logically it makes sense that it will be more costly to build over a river.”
Still, the KCLS estimates have raised questions from the public.
For example, the library system paid $60,000 for the Miller-Hull study in June that determined the higher costs to renovate the Cedar library, according to Greg Smith, the system’s facilities director. KCLS also paid for the printing and mailing of the July 2 letter KCLS sent to Renton residents explaining the results of that study. None of those costs will be passed on to Renton.
Renton City Council member Randy Corman, in his private blog, wondered whether Renton’s taxpayers were paying for the study, as it was included in KCLS’s budget detail. That line item is not the Miller-Hull study, Smith said, but it’s a site feasibility study that would be done at the Cedar library.
Corman also pointed out that it appeared that KCLS was adding in construction and design contingencies that already were included in the Miller-Hull construction-cost estimate done by Roen Associates.
However, Smith with KCLS said the Roen contingencies are used to help estimate costs for materials that haven’t been firmed up yet, including the effect of inflation, and design work that is still under way.
Once KCLS receives a final cost estimate for design and construction, it will add a 10 percent contingency on construction costs and 5 percent on design costs to cover change orders and other unexpected costs to come up with a final figure, Smith said.
The current KCLS estimate includes those contingencies on Roen’s current construction estimate of $8.1 million, he said.
Ptacek, the KCLS director, said he doesn’t dispute earlier cost estimates because now the library system has a better understanding of the “level of development” that it’s estimating costs for.
KCLS designs and builds its libraries to a standard “level of quality” in terms of operations, material and longevity, a standard it would meet at the Cedar library, Ptacek said.
“Our biggest interest in this whole thing is making sure wherever it (a library) is, is that it meets that quality. We don’t want a library that’s going to fall apart, that it’s going to function well,” he said.
The Cedar renovation is “basically gutting the building and making sure that it is structurally sound to support library operations throughout the building,” he said.
Right now, Ptacek can’t say when a renovated library over the Cedar River would reopen. KCLS would go through the same public design process as was done with the Piazza library. The city would need to issue permits and then demolition and then reconstruction would occur, but work can’t occur when fish are in the river.
“We don’t really know how long it would take,” he said of construction.
It takes KCLS about a year to build a library once permits are obtained and a contractor hired. KCLS is behind schedule on the Piazza site, although design work is continuing as the library system does more investigation of the Cedar library.
The Piazza library could open in early 2014, Ptacek said.
THE PIAZZA LIBRARY
CITY COST: $10 million for construction, including land purchase
KCLS COST: $1.6 million for furniture, materials, equipment, etc. That’s the standard cost for all new KCLS libraries.
TOTAL: $11.6 million (based on preliminary estimates; city number could change, even go down, because design is continuing)
SIZE: 15,000 square feet
THE CEDAR RIVER LIBRARY
CITY COST: $13.1 million for renovation and to bring the building to current code.
KCLS COST: $1.6 million for furniture, materials, equipment, etc.
TOTAL: $14.7 million (based on preliminary estimates; city number could change, even go down, because design hasn’t started)
SIZE: 22,000 square feet
Source: King County Library System
Contact Renton Reporter Editor Dean Radford at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-425-255-3484 (ext 5050).