Council Reviews Lessons Learned from Civic Center Project

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City staff presented the council with “lessons learned” from the costly and controversial Civic Center project this week during Tuesday’s study session.

During the Dec. 13 meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Diane Dixon asked staff to “provide a recap of the change in scope of the Civic Center project, along with what staff would see as “lessons learned” following the completion of this large and costly effort,” the staff report reads.

“It’s really lessons learned to go forward, how to manage a complex project,” Dixon said, noting the possible police headquarters project.

Assistant City Manager Steve Badum went over the history of the project, which started in 1998 with a discussion about the old city hall site. Badum gave a brief “project in a nutshell” presentation. After researching several locations, considering various designs and features, and the actual construction, the “all in” cost was $141.7 million.

It did cause some “significant debate” in the community, Badum said. He mentioned a few of the controversial features/aspects were the cost, the wave roof, the bunnies and more.

Now, 15 years later, the Civic Center includes an expansion of the central library, a city hall with a community room, council chambers, disaster preparedness center, a 15-acre park and dog park, pedestrian bridge linking the two sides of the park across San Miguel Drive, and a 450-space parking structure.

City Manager Dave Kiff went over the lessons learned, which include: Keeping the residents engaged; Measure B’s impressions; early day design competition; moving early on bids; process improvements during project construction; and furnishings.

Kiff noted that to help keep people engaged, staff needs to also work to bring the message to the residents and not rely so much on having residents come to the city. Ideas include: More community outreach, expanded social media, better website and more.

The lesson learned about moving early on bids was that while it helped the city take advantage of a down market, it added change orders and some delays to the process later.

“I don’t think it’s a secret that we went to bid with plans that were not completely done,” Kiff said. “Our knowledge said at the time, that the cost savings would outweigh the cost expense.”

“We think it did that,” he added.

It’s easy to say that in hindsight, but it is risky at the time, Kiff noted. “We don’t think this is a good practice ordinarily.”

Since then, they city has gone out to bid with fully completed designs for Sunset Ridge and Marine Park projects.

“Several issues arose that staff saw could be improved, such as turn-around time for requests for information, the insurance process, whether or not an independent, third-party project manager was a valuable addition, and more,” the staff report reads for the fifth lesson learned.

Lesson learned number six were the furnishings.

Before the big move, they stopped making nearly all investments in furniture.

“The chair I was sitting in was 18 years old,” Kiff commented.

“(We thought), ‘When we do move, let’s buy something that’s going to hold up,’” Kiff said.

The emphasis was on durability, he said.

“At the same time, remember we live in a very litigious environment with a state that tends to be quite easy to make a finding of some ergonomic problem associated with furnishings,” Kiff said. “So it’s very important to me that we have furnishings that aren’t going to cost us money in the long run. If I bought the wrong chair for 280 employees, I’m going to pay through the nose for that through ergonomic claims.”

But he really respects how it resonated with the community, he added.

Lesson learned: “We need to be more robust with the council about that decision and the public,” Kiff noted.

They’re trying to do that now with the Marina Park furnishings, he added.

Several members of public also spoke, mentioning and questioning budget, website, employees, third party construction manager, process and more.

The council members had mixed reactions.

Dixon had a few points to make and for staff to think about going forward, including budget, working together with architect and contractor, knowing building codes beforehand, and more.

Some costs got out of hand, she said. The architect and the construction contractor weren’t working together, she noted. Several things could have been prevented, Dixon added.

“If you look at some of these elements, I think we were over,” (the original budget), Dixon said. “Now why were we over? I think it’s because we didn’t have this basic framework.”

Several other council members noted a few other expenses that they felt were unnecessary or could have been avoided.

Mayor Ed Selich, who was on the Building Committee that worked on the project since its inception, thought staff did a good job reviewing the process and determining lessons learned.

The Building Committee was tasked with looking at all the different choices they had, in terms of materials, and getting the best value out of each item at the least amount of cost.

“We did not just buy on price alone so that we would have to replace these items in a very short period of time,” he said.

“Public buildings like this take a lot of hard use and a lot of abuse, so you really have to take a look at the durability of the materials and the furnishings that you buy to make sure that you’re not spending your initial money foolishly,“ Selich said, “because if you spend it foolishly at the front end you oftentimes pay a lot more down the road.”

Councilman Tony Petros reiterated another council member’s comment: “It is what it is, let’s move forward.”

“I don’t believe that going back and reviewing costs and all of that really provide us any information that’s useful as we move into the future,” Petros said. “Actually, I think it’s a waste of resources.”

He did like the notion that as they move forward with specific projects they have an additional layer of oversight and review, Petros said.

It would also be helpful to take some time to review the possible ways to most efficiently manage upcoming projects.

“This project is done. It is over. We’re in it. The lights are on,” Petros said.

Marina Park is almost complete, Petros added, and is coming in under budget and on time. Same with Sunset Ridge Park and other projects already in the works for the future, he added.

“This is not some type of epidemic of irresponsibility,” Petros said. “Clearly our public works department puts together projects that come in under budget and on time. So I’m looking forward to move forward and not look back.”

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