Councilman Jack Reger at Monday's special meeting. / Photo by Monica Zalaznik

City officials reaffirm commitment to borrow up to $4 million for long-awaited new SYCC building

BUCKHANNON – Buckhannon City Council is expected to vote to solicit bids for the Stockert Youth and Community Center’s long-awaited multipurpose building project at its Oct. 5 meeting.

City Council, the SYCC Board and the Buckhannon Building Commission convened Oct. 2 for a special meeting to discuss a plan to move forward with the project. The meeting was initially slated so officials could discuss alternative designs for the building in case the current blueprint is, indeed, too expensive once bids return.

Mayor Robbie Skinner said the architecture firm the Mills Group used a third-party simulator to estimate how much the project would cost.

“The estimator goes off of cost to build per square foot, using the materials and using everything that you see in the pictures and that’s what came back at roughly $6.5 million,” Skinner said. “It has not been bid out to any local contractors, but that is what this third-party estimator believes to be current, accurate market conditions for building this building — that’s what it came back as.”

In 2022 – more than one year ago – city council voted during their Sept. 21 meeting to borrow no more than $4 million to complete the project. At that meeting, council members made it clear they would also utilize the funds in the capital campaign fund, which has a balance of $443,000.

Ryan Hess, principal with the Mills Group, attended the meeting virtually to lay out the alternate design options to make the building more affordable if necessary.

“The design team here has been working on a strategy for construction drawings that would include some ‘deduct alternates’ and some options to deduct these volumetric and programmatic pieces to lower the cost, one of which would be adjacent to the gymnasium,” Hess said. “There is a structure that is storage and a concession area, so the design team is charging that as a ‘deduct alternate,’ so we can take that off to lower the cost.”

Other ‘deduct alternates’ included the removal of a connector between the existing building and the new building and excluding locker rooms during the initial construction.

“There are restrooms located immediately out of the gymnasium, and those are needed for fixture requirements from a building code standpoint,” Hess said. “With the locker rooms, there could be another strategy for getting the plumbing and electrical systems in place but leaving those as a shell to build those later.”

SYCC director Debora Brockleman said she would like to keep the concession stand.

“If we had to eliminate the storage area, I think we would be fine, but I’d like to not eliminate the concession area if that’s possible,” Brockleman said. “That’s something I think would be very beneficial with what we want to do with the building, but I think we can do something else with storage – that’s not the most important thing.”

City engineer Jay Hollen said the design of the concession stand was based on the concession stand at Buckhannon-Upshur High School.

Skinner said one of the main reasons the multi-entity meeting had been convened was to determine how much city officials were willing to spend on the project, so he asked all the city council members to express their thoughts on the matter.

City council member Pam Bucklew said she was willing to borrow $4.5 million and spend a total of $5 million, and city council member David Thomas said he would prefer $3.5 million but could be persuaded to reach $4 or $4.5 million.

City council member David McCauley said borrowing over $4 million would require another conversation between council members.

“Council approved borrowing $4 million when we put this to a vote and using about a half-million bucks or resources from our capital campaign and perhaps a little bit more being tossed in by the city general fund for a total $4.5-million-dollar cost,” McCauley said. “I think a lot of this is so speculative until we put this thing out for bid.”

He pointed out that the Mills Group’s estimator is a national entity based in Indiana.

“This national entity that’s working for the Mills Group is based in Indiana, and we know we have at least one [local] contractor that’s highly committed to this project and has already invested funds in the capital campaign.”

McCauley also emphasized he didn’t want to burden Buckhannon in the future by borrowing too much now.

“I’ve been preaching for years that we don’t want to [saddle] future generations for 40 years with something that will be very difficult to afford,” McCauley said. “We were looking at a $4.5-million-dollar project, and if it comes in a little bit more than that and we have to borrow more than $4 million, then that would have to be a decision the council would make at that juncture.”

City council member Jack Reger said he wanted to get the project moving, but cautioned city officials only to borrow a sensible amount.

“We cannot kick the can down the road; we have to make a decision, but Dave mentioned something very, very important,” Reger said. “In 40 years, when this has been paid off, I don’t think very many of us are going to be sitting at this table.”

“We have streets to pave, and we have a lot of expenses and improvements that we currently need to bank, so we cannot overextend ourselves,” he continued. “The original plan, the original budget, was $4 million, and if we need to extend a little more, then we’ll come back to the table, and that’s not a problem.”

City council member CJ Rylands said he preferred borrowing $3.5 million.

“I am empathetic with the passion about addressing our children’s needs in this community, but I’ve made a few business decisions based on feelings in my life, and they haven’t worked out,” Rylands said. “If we don’t know where we’re going, we might not get there, so I’m at $3.5 million.”

However, Rylands also added, “If we can open this thing up and agree this is going to serve the community at large, then I would be willing to increase that [amount].”

City recorder Randy Sanders asked city director of finance and administration Amberle Jenkins how much the city should borrow if it wants to continue with its plans for other projects, such as park improvements.

“Being government is giving quality of life to people, and that’s what these projects are – that’s what the theater is, that’s what SYCC is – but we have essential services we have to continue to pay, and in my perfect world, it would be $3 million borrowing, but I know that’s probably not likely,” Jenkins said. “I think $3.5 to $4 million borrowing will keep you in a position that’s comfortable, but I wouldn’t be comfortable with $4.5 million; honestly, I’m not comfortable with anything above $4 million.”

Sanders agreed with Jenkins.

“I’m going to say that my comfort level right now is at $3.5 million,” Sanders said. “I can’t go over $4 million, and I know we voted on this months ago, but I can’t vote for anything above that.”

The group decided to cap borrowing at $4 million by the end of the meeting. The Building Commission recommended that council take action at their upcoming Oct. 5 meeting to authorize soliciting bids for contractors once the city receives its letter of conditions from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the loaning entity.

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