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Lowest animal-shelter bid tops estimate by $500,000

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By Greg Summers

County officials were hopeful to break ground on a new 8,600-square-foot animal shelter next spring, but the project now faces a major snag after the lowest bid came in $500,000 over budget. 
Now, they’re trying to figure how to trim the costs back and keep the project on track as much as possible.
“We have a very limited amount of options. We’re kind of at the edge of the diving board, and it’s either time to dive in or walk back,” Nicholas Miller, the county procurement director, said during a Tuesday meeting with county council’s Infrastructure & Regulation Committee.
The committee is chaired by Larry Honeycutt and includes council members Terry Graham and Billy Mosteller.
Miller went before the committee to review the project before it goes before the full council and then moves forward.
The three directed Miller to go back through the plans to see what could be cut, such as replacing the paved parking lot and driveway entrance with gravel and using county employees to do the work.
“There’s a number we’ve all got in our heads, and we don’t want it to go over that if we can keep from it, and that’s at about $2.8 million…. As we get the money, we can do something,” Honeycutt said.
Graham called the situation concerning if too many corners get cut.
“We’ve come so far along with this thing…. To go back and start all over again, you’re talking about another two years,” Graham said, noting that delays could lead to a loss of volunteers and a possible corporate sponsorship in the upcoming months.   
The site selected for the shelter is county-owned property off Pageland Highway between Lancaster Convalescent Center and Sunshine Road.
When the location was picked in May, the county hoped the facility would cost between $1.25 million and $1.75 million, but once designed, the cost was estimated at $2.5 million to $2.8 million.
Designed by McMillan/Pazden/Smith Architecture, the complex will include a 4,800-square-foot building with space for animal intake and holding, a medical area for treatment, offices and space for pet adoptions, as well as a laundry and a food-storage area. It also has two rooms for cats and 46 runs to house dogs.

Just 2 bids
Miller said 11 general contractors requested animal-shelter drawings, and nine attended a mandatory pre-bid meeting in October.
“We had a lot of interactions and they (contractors) stayed very engaged throughout the entire process. It was a very positive advertisement phase,” Miller said.   
However, only two general contractors – Southern Builders and Charlotte-based Southside Constructors – submitted base bids, which were opened Nov. 20 and are only good for 60 days.
The base bids don’t include all design fees, mandatory special inspections and equipment costs. For an apples-to-apples comparison, the base cost in the county’s project estimate totaled about $2.4 million.
Miller said Southern Builders in York County submitted the low bid, at just under $3 million. The Southside Constructors’ bid was almost $3.3 million.
Mosteller questioned why only two of the nine general contractors submitted bids. Miller was unsure.
“They didn’t give me any indication,” he said. “They just stopped in and said they won’t be bidding. They didn’t give any rationale…. It really comes down to profit, and I don’t know if the margins were there. They work their deals on their end.”  
County Administrator Steve Willis told the committee that he discussed the project with one contractor, who was not interested in what the company saw as a small project in light of the building boom that’s under way in the Panhandle.
“The longer we delay, based on what we’re seeing in the market, the numbers aren’t going to get any better,” Willis said.   

Higher costs
The big difference in the costs is in numbers for plumbing, mechanical and earth-moving.
The budget for plumbing was estimated at $187,000, but the low bid was $322,000.
“That seems extremely high – $300,000 for plumbing?” Honeycutt said.
Miller said the difference was the increased cost of a specialized drainage system needed for pet waste.
“It has to be handled and negated in certain ways that’s quite elaborate,” Miller said, noting that the plumbing costs were only $7,000 different in the two bids.
The project budget for mechanical costs (heating and air conditioning, ventilation, ductwork and air filtration) was estimated at $232,000, but the low bid was $533,000.
Miller said the disparity in mechanical costs was due to a more specialized air-handling system needed to mitigate the spread of disease.
“Every single room has its own ductwork. It may sound like overkill, but there is a justification so the air isn’t spread from one part of the facility to another,” Miller said. The current county animal shelter on Lynwood Drive had to be shut down for almost two months in 2017 after a distemper outbreak.
“I know you don’t want to hear this, but if you cut the air handling and plumbing, you’re killing us for the future,” Willis said.
Earth-moving includes part of the overall paving costs. The project budget for earth-moving was estimated at $342,000 but the low bid was $499,000.
That’s where the committee feels like some costs can be eliminated.
“We gotta do something,” Honeycutt said.
Miller told the committee that county staff and McMillan/Pazden/Smith Architecture had two regional general contractors, as well as subcontractors vet the numbers as recently as August.
“We had what we thought were numbers as close as you could get…. We went into October thinking when we gave you numbers of 2.5 to 2.8 (million dollars), we were very hopeful that was where we were going to fall. On bid day, we didn’t get the competition we were hoping for, and our numbers came back a little north.” 
Mosteller said he still fully backs the project, but not with the $500,000 higher cost. He said after the meeting that he hears almost daily from a District 3 taxpayer who asks “why we’re spending $3 million on an animal shelter.”
Council, he said, was elected to be good stewards of taxpayer money.
“That’s an additional half-million dollars that I just can’t support…. I’m willing to build it, but we need to go back and regroup,” Mosteller said.

Follow reporter Greg Summers on Twitter @GregSummersTLN or contact him at (803) 283-1156.