SNOW HILL– Elected officials asked the Worcester County Library to reduce the cost of the new branch proposed for Pocomoke on Tuesday.
The commissioners voted 7-0 in support of a motion for library costs to be reduced to $600 a square foot and for the size of the proposed building to be reduced if cuts can’t be made.
“We’re spending more money than we need to spend in my opinion,” Commissioner Jim Bunting said.
Worcester County Procurement Officer Nicholas Rice met with the commissioners this week seeking approval of a contract for design and bidding of a new Pocomoke library branch. Though there were at one time plans to build the new branch on the former armory site, officials are now hoping to replace the existing library on Market Street with a new 12,500 square foot facility. Rice presented the commissioners with a $468,301 proposal from JSD Inc. to provide professional services to develop detailed building, site and utility plans as well as specifications for future bidding of a new facility.
According to Rice, the cost of the new library currently is projected to be about $9.4 million. That amount includes $520,000 for architectural and engineering design services as well as $1.2 million in contingency and escalation funding. The actual building cost estimated is $8,664,271, or $691 per square foot.
When asked if the state was still providing the $2.2 million capital grant initially approved for the project before the location change, Worcester County Library Director Jennifer Ranck said it was not. She said that instead, the library would be requesting $4 million in fiscal year 2025 and additional funding the year after that.
Bunting said the commissioners had expressed concern about the cost of the project but that the proposed building had only been reduced by 500 square feet. Commissioner Chip Bertino agreed that cost concerns had already been expressed.
Chief Administrative Officer Weston Young said the county was only 10% into the design of the project.
“We’re still in the infant stages of the design,” he said. “I can see that number coming down further.”
He added that the cost included demolition of the existing library, a cost that the county wouldn’t have faced on the previously proposed armory site.
Commissioner Eric Fiori said officials wanted to see the cost per square foot of the new facility reduced.
“It doesn’t really look like that’s really moved a whole lot,” he said.
Ranck reiterated that the library was only 10% into the design of the new structure.
“We’re in our fourth year of trying to get something off the ground,” she said. “It’s been a lot of hurry up and wait it feels like. We have a library that’s 53 years old. I’m doing my best to provide a new library, something updated, that’s going to last for another 50 years and do it in such a way the operating costs are going to be lower.”
Carol Rose, president of the Worcester County Library Foundation, said the foundation was ready to start fundraising but couldn’t do so until the project was approved.
“We are ready to raise as much as we can,” she said. “We’re ready to get this done and work hard to raise the money. We need this library for the people from that area.”
Fiori said everyone agreed the library needed to be replaced but that the commissioners felt some reductions needed to be made before the design process began. He said they wanted to understand why it was so expensive.
“I think we’re looking for that explanation and I don’t think that’s happened yet,” he said. “Everyone wants this project to go through but we have to watch the value. That’s why we’re asking. We’ve commented on this multiple times and I don’t think we’ve received an answer on the square footage.”
Bunting said he didn’t think the cost, including contingency and escalation, should exceed $8.6 million.
“Otherwise I can’t support it,” Bunting said.
Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said he didn’t want to see the facility shortchanged but said $691 a square foot was ridiculous.
“Building costs have in fact gone down in the last six months,” he said.
Mitrecic added that it was not a complex building and featured a lot of open space rather than things like bathrooms and kitchens. He said he thought the project could be done for $600 a square foot.
Based on the current square footage, that price would lead to roughly a $7.5 million construction cost, staff said. Bunting noted that with a contingency that would come to $8.6 million. Commissioner Chip Bertino asked if that $600 a square foot figure could be used as a benchmark moving forward.
“Certainly we could work with the engineer on value engineering this down closer to that $600 a square foot,” Rice said. “I assume that might change some of the design… but yes we can work with that.”
The commissioners voted unanimously to have the library return with a proposed contract that met the $600 a square foot price and that if that couldn’t be done, the size of the proposed facility should be reduced.