Westwego’s eight-year battle to build a new city hall was dealt a blow Wednesday when the lowest construction bid came in more than $500,000 over budget, though Mayor John Shaddinger said he is confident that adjustments can be made to the design to bring the cost down to the roughly $3.2 million target.
If all goes well, the city could get another round of bids on the project in about three months, he said.
“We were really optimistic that this thing would come in” under budget, he said. “Needless to say, I’m a little disappointed.”
Shaddinger said discussions on revisions to the plans will begin this week and that he’ll call a special City Council meeting if necessary.
He said the city may be able to switch from concrete to plastic sewer pipe, put in fewer thermostats or make other adjustments, though it will have to keep the emphasis on quality.
“We’re building a building that’s going to last for generations,” he said. “It’s not something that’s just going to be here for 10 or 20 years.”
Shaddinger said the city, which has very little money not committed to other uses, might be able to come up with another $100,000, but nowhere near enough to make up the difference between the target price and the low bid of $3.8 million, which was submitted by J.A. Julius Jr., of Marrero.
Three other bids came in at $3.9 million and a fourth was $4.1 million.
None of those totals included a pair of additional accessories — including an emergency generator for the building — that would add roughly another $300,000 to the project. They were listed as alternates on the bid documents.
Westwego has been trying to get a new city hall built since shortly after Hurricane Katrina, but it became embroiled in a dispute with the Federal Emergency Management Agency over the condition of the existing building on Avenue A.
Like many older municipal buildings, Westwego’s city hall had been altered, patched and expanded over the decades, and after Katrina, the list of problems only grew. Shaddinger said the existing building has been added onto on four different occasions and looks like it belongs “in a Third World country.”
The building leaks during storms — Shaddinger said he’s had as many as 10 buckets in his office at one time to catch drips — and the vents have collapsed.
Until some drainage work was completed a few years ago, the building flooded so often that much of the furniture and equipment was kept elevated on pieces of lumber. One council meeting had to be cut short when the room flooded during a rainstorm.
Shaddinger said that after 22 visits by FEMA inspectors and all indications that the city would get the money for a new building, it was visited a 23rd time in 2009 and officials were told the damage wasn’t sufficient to qualify. Instead, FEMA said Westwego would have to settle for $500,000 to repair the existing building.
But after an arbitration hearing a year later brokered by U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, FEMA agreed to provide $3.2 million for the new building.
Shaddinger said that while the dispute was contentious, FEMA has been a good partner since the matter was resolved.
The city began designing the building, but the project was delayed once again in early 2013, when plans to close a road to accommodate a drive-up window drew opposition from some members of the council.
The new one-story, 10,000-square-foot building will be on Fourth Street on an empty lot marked only by a sign that’s been heralding the new building for about a year.
Shaddinger said it will take about 12 months to build.