By Judy Ross
Over the summer, the most frequent question we heard was, “How’s the library project coming?”
That was easy to answer (and the details are in last month’s All Point Bulletin).
The second most frequent question was, “Why does it cost so much?” That’s not so easy to answer, but I’ll give it a try.
From the beginning, we’ve talked about remodeling the Julius fire hall for a new library. That’s how the architect described it in his original plans: most of the outside walls and the slab would be maintained, although there would be a new roof and an entirely new inside. The footprint was not expected to change. People might reasonably think that the final cost is high for a remodeling job.
But the original planning was five years ago and in the interim, a radar machine discovered that half of the slab would have to be replaced and the other half would need remediation. The county decided that a new septic tank would be needed and we may need more parking places. These have all increased the original estimate.
Five years of inflation have also increased the construction costs. Two years ago, our Whatcom County Executive told me we’d be lucky to get the project in then at under $325/square foot. The current estimate is about $336. There’s a lot of building going on in Whatcom County and farther south, which has put considerable pressure on building costs even when overall inflation is not that high.
A public building project (and this library is a public building, owned by the Point Roberts Park and Recreation District) must be put out to competitive bid with the contract going to the lowest bidder. That means the low bidder could be cutting all kinds of corners to increase profits.
To counteract that inclination, the county has many requirements for public construction standards that are not imposed on private construction. For a private job, the private owner looks out for his own interests; in a public project, the county looks out for the public, whose money is financing the project. That extra scrutiny increases costs, but minimizes the chance of shoddy construction.
And, finally, a public building is meant to last. When you build a home, you may expect to live in it for 20 years, but you’ll probably be doing a lot of maintenance, repair and remodeling during that time. A public building needs to last longer than a house. The building materials need to be more durable and will be more expensive.
The community center has been around for 70 years and has had very little major work during that time (although some has been necessary over the past two years).
The new library will last, too.
Not forever, but long enough so that the community will not need to raise more money every five or 10 years to repair or replace elements.
It’s part of our gift to the future: a library that lasts, as we have received from an earlier generation a community center that has lasted.
To make that happen, vote yes on the new library levy on the November 8 ballot.