HR college plan runs into budget crunch

By KATHY GRAY

The Dalles Chronicle

November 18, 2006

Rapidly rising construction costs are forcing Columbia Gorge Community College to rethink how to build new buildings in The Dalles and Hood River.

Voters approved an $18.5 million bond measure in 2004, to which the Oregon Legislature added $7.5 million a year later, based on a $10.8 million request, for a total of $26 million.

Goals of the capital project focus on renovation at The Dalles campus and development of additional classroom space in both The Dalles and Hood River.

Despite budget constraints, the college’s first priority is to keep its word to voters, said Dr. Frank Toda, college president.

Dennis Whitehouse, college facilities services executive director, and a team of architects told the college board of directors Tuesday evening that construction costs have risen 34 percent since 2002, when the projects were originally costed.

“We need a motion to allow us to alter and change the design so that we can come within budget,” Whitehouse told board members.

Alternatively, the board could authorize the college to borrow money. However, Whitehouse said the college executive team felt borrowing money during the current flux conditions with community college spending would not be prudent.

Instead, Richard Higgins and Robert Esau, from the architectural firm DLR Group, outlined a four-pronged approach designed to trim design elements to fit within a budget based on current construction costs.

Possible changes would apply to both the health sciences building on The Dalles campus and the Hood River campus building.

The four cost-saving elements include:

* Reducing square footage by about 10 percent. This could result in an estimated half of the required cost savings.

* Reducing the cost of systems that go into the buildings, specifically changing from a basement boiler to roof-top heating and cooling units.

* Site savings such as reconfiguring parking lots and roads and sidewalks to accommodate existing site slopes, though still maintaining accessibility.

* Simplifying overall design configuration of the building. Fewer changes in angle (corners) and overhangs can result in cost savings.

“It’s the best approach, because we can’t do any one area by itself,” Higgins said.

Other changes include moving from more expensive curtain windows, typically used in skyscraper construction, to less costly storefront windows or other varieties, as well as changing some of the other construction materials.

Board members closely questioned Whitehouse and the architects about how the changes would affect what had been established through the design processes at both buildings.

“We approved the previous design within the last year,” said Dave Fenwick, board chair. “I was still under the assumption that it was $26 million we were working with.” Materials handed out at the meeting apparently indicated that construction inflation had reduced the building power to about $18 million — about 70 percent of its original value.

“We had been under the assumption that we had $26 million, because we didn’t know how much the cost estimate was affected,” Whitehouse said. After cost-cutting efforts in June, Whitehouse found out more cuts were needed.

“We’re much better sitting here today than sitting here with a bid in hand saying we’re over budget,” he added. “We’ve been costing and cutting, costing and cutting, but now we’re at the point where we have to make pretty significant changes.”

Whitehouse said current timelines have the bid requests going out in February for the health sciences building and May for the Hood River center.

“What this does is put both buildings on the same track,” he explained. Groundbreaking for the health sciences building is scheduled for mid-April.

Board members were concerned that the changes in design might compromise the goals established through facilities master planning and design processes.

“If we have significant differences, are we redefining our goals?” Fenwick asked.

“We’ve had to prioritize some of the goals,” Whitehouse said. He also said some goals will be integrated into the design and others will be accommodated to a lesser degree.

Proposed changes were all preliminary, Whitehouse noted. Staff members had only received word of the cost impacts a week earlier. He said he planned to bring back a more detailed plan at the Dec. 12 board meeting.

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