Consultant suggests shrinking new Woodstock library design

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

Woodstock Library officials will have to make some important decisions about how to proceed with a planned new library in light of preliminary cost estimates.

As often happens in the construction industry, the building, as proposed by architect Stephen Tilly, may cost up to $6.9 million, up from the board-stated cap of $4.4 million. The architectural fee with Tilly is $584,000, putting the total cost at close to $5 million if they stick to the cap.

Trustees have hired JC Alten to advise them through the initial planning process and provide early cost estimates in parallel to similar work done by the architect. He is in the running for the job of construction manager agent, an independent person that acts on behalf of the building owner and coordinates between the architect and contractors.

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Alten offered several recommendations to the Building Committee on August 22 to shave off more than $2.5 million. He said the next, more in-depth cost analysis is value engineering, which Alten characterized as a nice phrase for cutting the budget. But, he said, it must be done in a responsible way.

The wrong way to do it is at the last minute in a panic when you need to reduce the bottom line quickly, Alten explained.

“In other words, if you do this correctly now, this is the foundation on which you’re going to build the correct building for the correct price. It’s critically important.”

Alten believes reducing the building from 13,400 back down to 12,000 square feet can save more than $580,000. Re-engineering the geothermal heating and cooling system can cut another $314,000 while cutting back on the truss roof system and moveable walls can save $262,000. Further, changing the metal roof to standard shingles saves $140,000.

Another opportunity for savings can come from using traditional demolition techniques instead of the proposed deconstruction in which components can be saved and incorporated in the new building.

“You’re going to spend an extra $100,000 for public relations,” Alten said, then spend a lot of time trying to figure out what to do with the materials.

Trustees have already promised to save the historic ell that now serves as staff office space and a mantle that is being stored at the Historical Society.

Tilly’s plans incorporate some costly non-structural glass walls that can be moved to reconfigure spaces, but Alten suggested the board think hard about whether they’re needed. He said in large office projects he’s worked on, “99 times out of 100 they never move them.”

The planned building uses large wood trusses to allow for an open building plan and the ability to move walls to change room layouts, but Alten said those may not be necessary in parts of the building, like the elevator and bathrooms, that will never be moved.

If the building project benefits from federal funding and grants, it must be subject to laws that require prevailing wages for construction workers, which are well above the national average in this area.

To save money and still comply with wage laws, Alten will look into companies that specialize in prefabricated modules, such as complete walls with windows, that are constructed in a factory and shipped to the site.

The materials are more expensive, but it may be possible to save on labor, he said.

While keeping all these considerations in mind, Alten said the building “should represent the community.” 

Alten said the Tilly design is not ostentatious, but there is still room for savings.

Unlike many architects, Tilly’s firm is amenable to suggested cuts. Many firms will aggressively defend their design, he noted. 

Adjustments needed

Building Committee Chair Jill Fisher said 13,400 square feet provided the necessary space for all the programming needs. “Now we’re going to have to figure out what goes,” she said.

The building was initially proposed at 15,000 square feet, but trustees directed Tilly to pare it down to a suggested 12,000 square feet based on some criticism that it was too large. Tilly came back with 13,400 square feet.

The process is close to the end of the schematic design phase. Tilly’s contract has allowances to pause for up to six months before the next phase, design development, in which plans are tightened up and more specific. The pause allows for fundraising and any changes in the plans.

The Building Committee meets again at 5 p.m. Thursday, September 5 and the full board meets September 19 at 7 p.m. Both meetings are in the library and open to the public.

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