Women’s Club – A Potential Waste of Taxpayer Money Temporarily Stopped
With a budget deficient of nearly 10 million dollars a scope creep renovation project of nearly 3 million dollars needs to be cancelled
The Woman’s Club building, located at 403 Magnolia Street, was built in 1924 and added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1989. For several years the building has shown signs of deterioration and was closed to the public. In May of 2018, the City Commission voted to approve a renovation project to restore the building for public use.
Funding assistance for Phase I restoration was obtained from the County ECHO program in July 2019 in the amount of $257,500. Additional funding from the State was secured in July of 2021 for $600,000. The City committed to funding the balance of $360,074. The project was divided into two phases with Phase I projected at $1,217,574 and Phase II with an additional $750,000, bringing the total project to $1,967,574.
A design contract was approved by the City in October of 2021, and construction began on June 5, 2023. As soon as construction started, previously unknown deterioration of the building was discovered once some of the exterior walls were removed. Extensive rot and termite damage was found in the walls, and the supporting structures were determined to be 80% compromised. Further investigation of the interior flooring indicated it was likewise 50% compromised from water damage. The building is unusual for the area as it has a cellar, and supplies little support for the flooring. Professionals indicated that more damage was most likely to be discovered after the interior walls were exposed.
Estimates to include repair of the noted and potential damage quickly escalated the project costs from the initial $1,967,574 to $2,762,574. Funds expended to date were $246,343 and, there would be a $250,000 payout to the contractor should the City cancel the project. Impacting the discussion was the fact that the Commission was already facing an approximate 9 to10 million dollar shortfall in the FY2024 budget if they wanted to avoid a tax increase; and that did not include the now identified cost overrun for the Woman’s Club building. It was also learned that there is a “Stop Work” penalty which would force the City to pay the contractor about $340.00 per day if construction was stopped while the city decided what to do with the project.
One option being considered is to demolish the building and replace it with one of similar design. Another option is to demolish the building, establish a monument on the site with a plaque commemorating its existence and sell the property, with a deed restriction to maintain the monument, to recover the losses. No final disposition decision has been made other than to cancel the current contractor commitment of $340 per diem. As we learn more the Alliance will update you.