The bids are in for Sitka’s Kettleson Memorial Library expansion — and contractors are estimating that the project, as currently envisioned, would cost about $1-million more than the city had expected.

At a special meeting of the Sitka Assembly on Thursday night (8-31-14), City Administrator Mark Gorman explained that the estimating firm HMS had pegged library construction costs at about $4.3-million. But the two bids received by the city this month came in around $5.1-million.

“We were very disappointed in the work of the estimators,” Gorman said. “They were off by a factor of 20%.”

The library design calls for completely renovating the existing building and tacking on an additional 4,800 square feet — a 60-percent expansion. The city hopes to break ground this fall, and finish construction by October 2015.

Public Works Director Michael Harmon and City Engineer Dan Tadic laid out a series of potential cuts to bring down the project cost. The changes include everything from cheaper carpeting, tiles and lighting to reducing the size of the new children’s area. Harmon said none of the cuts are easy.

“I would love to be able to put every one of these things back and get back on track with the original project,” he said.

Harmon asked the assembly for the go-ahead to enter into negotiations with the lowest bidder, Dawson Construction, to try to find more savings.

Even with the cuts presented Thursday night, the city estimates it would still have to find another $385,000 for the project. That’s on top of the roughly $345,000 the city has already committed to the library expansion. Most of that money comes from the cruise ship head tax.

But even with the additional city funding, the bulk of  the library expansion is being paid for with a grant from the State of Alaska. The full budget for the project — including design and planning work — is about $6.5-million. Of that, $5.7-million is coming from the state. The library has also collected almost half a million dollars in donations from community members.

Deputy Mayor Matt Hunter argued that given the amount of outside funding, the project is still a good deal for Sitka – especially since the city would have faced about $2-million in repairs just to maintain the existing building. Those repairs have now been rolled into the larger expansion project.

“One of the things that really made me support this project is the fact that we have deferred maintenance on so many things in this town,” Hunter said. “This is a way to get somebody else to pay for the deferred maintenance.”

Finance Director Jay Sweeney told the assembly that the city has about $2-million in surplus funds from fiscal years 2013 and 2014, that it could dip into for the project.

In the end, the assembly voted 5 to 1 to approve a Notice of Intent to Award the contract to Dawson Construction. That will allow Public Works to enter into more detailed negotiations with the contractor.

Assembly member Pete Esquiro was the only “no” vote. He said he’d like to see all of that $2-million surplus dedicated to roads, or put into the city’s permanent fund.

Public works director Michael Harmon said he expects to return to the assembly on August 26 with a final contract for approval.

You can find more coverage of the Sitka Assembly here.