Bids too high for Chamber upgrade

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A project to make the Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber ofCommerce handicap accessible is on hold after bids for the job camein well above the project’s budget, officials said.

Chamber executive vice president Cliff Brumfield said none ofthe bids opened by the Brookhaven Board of Aldermen at its lastmeeting of the year were below the project’s $297,000 fundinglevel, pushing back work that officials hoped would begin early in2009.

In fact, the closest base bid to the project’s budget wasapproximately $60,000 over at $357,000. The highest base bid camein at $519,000, and the highest total bid with alternate projectsincluded was more than $600,000.

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Brumfield said the bids were so high because construction costshave gone up during the city’s three-year quest to secure fundingfor the project, which was finally settled with a congressionalappropriation.

“We’re now waiting to hear suggestions from our architect as towhat to do next,” he said. “We may have to consider numerousoptions and perhaps a different direction for the project.”

Currently, the chamber is inaccessible to wheelchairs and mustbecome compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act if it isto continue to serve as the City Hall Precinct during elections.Because of the chamber’s status as a historic building, anyconstruction must be approved by the Mississippi Department ofArchives and History.

Construction options for making the chamber handicap accessibleinclude the installation of an interior elevator, remodeling ofrestrooms and the installation of a wheelchair ramp for entry intothe building. The installation of an elevator could cost as much as$100,000 – a third of the project’s budget, officials said.

Albert and Associates Architects President Larry Albert saidthere is little that can be done to alter the project withoutdestroying its intentions.

“You take the elevator out and it gets the money down, butthat’s the very thing you need to be ADA compliant,” he said. “Theproject has the basic ADA requirements, and there’s nothing else tolook for.”

Albert said the bids received were basic, with extra jobs likeaesthetic improvements bid as alternates. He said re-bidding thejob would not help, but might actually bring in higher prices.

“When you have Paul Jackson and Son, Inc. – who are usuallypretty competitive – going so far above the estimate, that’s asign,” Albert said.

Ward Four Alderwoman Shirley Estes is confident a solution willbe found. She predicted the work might be done in phases instead ofall at once if necessary.

“It’s not going to be dropped,” she said of the project.”Sometimes when a bid comes in way over the grant funds, we justhave to take another look or reduce the scope of the project.

We want to cooperate with the chamber to get this worked out asquickly as possible.”

Estes said the city, which is serving as the channel for thechamber’s funds, is eager to make the building ADA compliantbecause the alternative – designating a new precinct – is not adesirable solution.

“It’s rather laborious to move a polling place,” she said.

Estes said the city also has a great interest in the building’spreservation. Aside from making the chamber handicap accessible,officials hope some of the funding for the project can be used foraesthetic and structural preservation work.

“It’s a significant building in the community,” Estes said.