Several members of Petersburg borough assembly this week questioned the borough’s plan for repairing or replacing the town’s failing police building and jail. Borough staff say the architects eventually will be reporting back with a cost estimate for the borough’s top capital project priority. However some assembly members want to look at scaling down the project because they don’t expect any more state grant money for construction.
In 2013, the borough assembly decided to pursue a combined renovation of the police station and jail along with the borough offices in the downtown building.
Borough manager Steve Giesbrecht told the assembly he was waiting on cost estimates for the architects on the project, “basically an updated number that tells us between the time they estimated until the time today and they’ve got a lot more detail on the project, what’s it going to cost to build the building that’s been outlined,” he explained.
The police station side of the over 50-year old building has a sinking floor and separating walls because of a failing concrete slab. An earlier estimate of the project cost was nearly 10 million dollars, including the rent for temporary borough offices in a different building, and re-doing the police communications system. The borough already has half that in state grant money, and has set aside nearly another million dollars from a budget surplus. Giesbrecht explained that staff would take the updated estimate and figure out if there was a way to pay for the full project, with that six million dollars and other money, or if it had to be pared down.
“I’d kinda like to see what the numbers are,” Giesbrecht said. “We have not had an update on these costs in, for what, two years now. I have no clue what’s happened to the numbers. They could have gone up 50 percent in which case, you know, we’re back to square one. Or projects costs have gone down as contractors have gotten more desperate. I just don’t know.”
Giesbrecht explained that eliminating renovations for the borough offices, administration and finance department staff, would not cut costs enough. “When it comes down to the construction part of admin(stration) and finance, it’s a very small part of the project. The biggest expense is the mechanical, the electrical and plumbing in this building are in pretty bad shape. It’s fixing all that which has to happen for the whole building for the PD (police department) and that’s why we have see how these numbers break down. We just really have to see what’s possible once they show up.”
A few on the assembly were interested in pursuing a project with the six million dollars that the borough already has secured. John Havrilek wanted to take a proactive approach instead of waiting. “Our fiscal future looks so poor that I’d rather hit the architect with we have six million, what are you gonna give us for that,” Havilek said. “The other thing, knowing architects, they get paid on the numbers they give us. So they’re not gonna, unless we tell them we want a six million dollar building they’re gonna give us a 10-12 million dollar, because it’s a business.”
Another assembly member, Kurt Wohlhueter agreed that the borough had little chance of landing additional state funding. “The climate of the economics has changed in the United States, its changed in the state of Alaska. I think its time that we take a hard line and at least start having that conversation here. Before we start taking money out of budget reserves that we’ve set aside for the future, for a rainy day in our own community here, so we don’t have to lay off our employees, just to have a building where we’re losing money from the state for maintaining jails, we’re losing money for the police department, those kind of things.”
The assembly members emphasized they supported the project and wanted it to be completed. However, they expressed little interest in using additional borough reserve money, and did not want to go to the voters for additional funding.
Borough manager Giesbrecht cautioned the assembly about changing directions if it looks like the borough can’t afford the renovations at the moment. “Maybe in a couple years we could, by squirreling away some more money to add to our reserves. Again if the assembly doesn’t wanna go that direction and says you don’t wanna take any money out of reserves for this building, then you’re probably right, we’re probably talking about telling the architect stop now. Because the project as designed we don’t have enough money to do it, even with major cuts to it. You can’t do the shell of this building and fix all of the wiring and plumbing and heating without pulling money out of the borough to do it.”
Vice mayor Cindi Lagoudakis thought the condition of the building was an emergency and warranted spending some borough money. “Having been in that with every elected official we can get our hands on to parade through there, and hearing from the parole officer and the police captain and everybody else about the consequences to state and federal funding and things we can and cannot do there, I think we’re pretty up against the line with milking that facility out just about as long as we’ve been able to and we need to address it pretty soon,” Lagoudakis said.
The manager expected the updated cost estimate sometime this month. The assembly took no action on the issue but agreed to wait on that information.