Library bids come in well under budget

The bad economy has finally reaped some dividends for Jackson County taxpayers.

Construction of the new Jackson County library and renovations to the historic courthouse will cost the county roughly $1.5 million less than expected. Bids from construction companies came in well below what architects estimated, likely because contractors are hungry for work.

The county got bids from 15 construction companies. The low bid came from Brantley Construction based in Canton for $6.067 million. The total cost of the project will be around $7.5 million, factoring in architect fees, site work and the dreaded-but-expected cost overruns.

“We did a thorough background check on their history of service and we found it to be almost impeccable,” said County Manager Ken Westmoreland. “So without reservation we recommend Brantley.”

Brantley’s recent projects in Western North Carolina include a multi-million expansion of the Asheville Airport, the $4 million Child Development Center on the campus of Haywood Community College, two new fire stations in Asheville at about $2 million a piece, and renovations to buildings at Western Carolina University.

In the blueprints for the new library and courthouse renovations, the county had identified several small items as extras that could be cut to save money if needed. Since the bid came in lower than expected, county commissioners chose to include all the extras. These include a rear terrace, second floor balcony and soft lighting on the steps leading from the courthouse to Main Street. (The steps are slated for renovation as part of the project.)

One extra gave rise to discussion among commissioners, however. Commissioner Tom Massie questioned the wisdom of a stained-glass skylight, which isn’t a true skylight but instead will be illuminated by electric lights behind the stained glass. The price tag was $96,000.

“The reality is that’s a fake skylight,” Massie said. “I just wonder if we really need that.”

Commissioner William Shelton said that if the stained-glass faux skylight was eliminated, some other type of lighting would be needed in its place. The county wouldn’t realize the full savings of $96,000 by cutting the decorative feature, but only the difference between the two, Shelton said. Commissioner Brian McMahan said the county should spring for the aesthetic touch, especially in light of the fundraising campaign.

“I think a lot of people who have made donations in this charity drive are trying to build something that will be a showcase for Jackson County and something we can be proud of,” McMahan said.

Mary Selzer, chairman of the Friends of the Library fundraising committee, advocated for the stained-glass perk.

“That has been a feature of great interest to the community as we have talked about the building,” Selzer said.

The commissioners voted unanimously to approve the bid with all the extras, for a base construction cost of $6.067 million, not counting contingencies.

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