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February 5, 2013

Ferndale hires firm to help plan $2 million renovation project

By Jeremy Selweski
C & G Staff Writer

FERNDALE — City officials recently took another step toward renovating Ferndale’s dilapidated police station and district courthouse by hiring a consulting firm to oversee the project.

At its Jan. 28 meeting, the Ferndale City Council unanimously approved a contract with Plante Moran CRESA to provide owner’s representative services for the city throughout the planning stages of the renovation. The agreement is for an amount not to exceed $45,000, with payments based on an hourly rate ranging from $95 to $215 — depending on the type of employees providing assistance — or a blended rate of about $150 per hour.

By hiring Plante Moran CRESA, the long-awaited project is officially getting under way. As Councilwoman Melanie Piana put it, “This is it; this is the green ‘go’ button.”

According to City Manager April Lynch, the firm’s primary role will be to help Ferndale officials design a budget and a schedule, and then stick to them as closely as possible.

“Their whole purpose is to make sure that the city is represented fairly in every phase of this project that we deem necessary,” she told the council. “The point is to have them help us through all the different stages of the process … to make sure that we have the right team in place to make this project successful.”

In Phase I of the project, Plante Moran CRESA will assist the city with planning and evaluation, completing the due diligence process, selecting an architect, overseeing the design of the building renovations, and choosing a contractor. It is expected to take six to eight months to complete.

At that point, Lynch said, city officials can determine whether they want to continue receiving support from Plante Moran CRESA for Phase II. That phase includes the building construction, coordinating the move to temporary police and court facilities, starting up the renovated buildings and closing out the project. It is expected to last between 12 and 14 months.

According to Gino Del Pup, project management associate for Plante Moran CRESA, the firm always works hard to procure contracts “that you typically wouldn’t get from a normal architectural firm or contractor. So what you’re getting is a very owner-sided contract that protects the municipality much, much further than you would get with a standard contract. On top of that … we’re really adept at understanding what a budget really means and which (goals) you can actually hit and which ones you can’t. So there are no surprises at the end of the project — that’s what we really strive for. What you say is what you get, on time and on budget.”

Del Pup added that Plante Moran CRESA would be contributing an average of 12.5 work hours per week during the six to eight months of Phase I.

Last November, the Ferndale City Council voted to allow the city administration to proceed with plans to renovate the Ferndale Police Department and Ferndale 43rd District Court buildings. For the last 12 years, court officials have been taking $20 out of every paid ticket and putting it into a separate account for the funding of new city facilities. Ferndale leaders have kept the account untouched since that time, and now it is in line to accumulate about $2 million to put toward the building renovations by the end of the 2012-13 fiscal year. Once completed, these upgrades will allow the city to get an estimated 20 years of additional use out of the existing courthouse and police station.

The plan also serves as a cheaper solution to one that Ferndale officials pursued a few years ago. In early 2010, the City Council opted to delay its three-years-in-the-making municipal complex project, which would have included the reconstruction or rehabilitation of the District Court, Police Department and City Hall buildings at a cost of about $8 million. Later that year, officials moved forward with a $447,000 renovation and reorganization of City Hall that functioned as a much less costly fix for that building.

Councilman Dan Martin initially questioned the decision to pursue a contract with Plante Moran CRESA that pays the firm by the hour rather than as a percentage of the total project cost. However, he became more amenable to the proposal once he realized the potential for monetary savings on the city’s end.

“The reason why I ask these financial questions,” he said, “is that construction projects have a tendency run over their (budgeted) cost, and cities work very hard to save the money to do renovations like this. So I’m particularly concerned about our costs running over.”

But as Lynch explained, the contract with Plante Moran CRESA “is paid per hour based on services that we request from them. So it’s not as if the more that we add on to the project, the more money they get paid. It is requested support that our team asks them for.”

She also pointed out that the city’s team will begin working on the project right away. She hoped to be able to bring a request before council Feb. 25 to begin seeking an architect.

Mayor Dave Coulter addressed concerns about the need to hire a consulting firm in the first place, rather than just putting the $45,000 toward the project, itself.

“There are a lot of great skills on our staff, and we hired April because she has a lot of great qualifications, but planning the construction of a $2 million project is not really one of them,” he said. “Our feeling was that to protect the best interest of the taxpayers in this town, to make sure that we stay on budget and we get what we pay for and we know what we’re even asking for, it’s prudent for us to have an (owner’s) representative like CRESA that is looking after us. … We’d like to get this project moving along quickly, but it’s not a rush in that we need to incur additional costs or cut corners or anything like that.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Jeremy Selweski at jSelweski@candgnews.com or at (586)218-5004.