Mayor and Commissioner Brody question staff and consultants about the expense and alternatives
Although they ultimately joined their colleagues in unanimous approval of the construction agreement, two Sarasota city commissioners this week spent about 20 minutes questioning a staff member and consultants about the latest cost estimate of the Lift Station 87 building itself.
“The time to complete this portion of the project is 920 days, Mitt Tidwell, the city’s utilities director, told the board on Sept. 5. “I did the math. That’s two years, six months.” If the work gets underway in November, he pointed out, “we would be finishing construction in May of 2020.”
The Sept. 5 agenda item called for the board to consider a contract with PCL Construction of Ruskin to build the facility in Luke Wood Park at a cost of $21,127,000. Additionally, the firm will install a new 6-inch water main on Lincoln Drive, replacing an undersized pipeline, for the extra expense of $140,000, Tidwell explained to the board during its regular meeting this week.
He reminded the commissioners that the microtunneling under Hudson Bayou — a key component of the overall project to replace Lift Station 7 — was completed earlier this year. (The success of that phase came in late May.) Phase 2 entails actual construction of the lift station itself, he added. “All activity would be in [Luke Wood] Park within the area that’s currently fenced,” Tidwell said.
After the facility is completed, he noted, Phase 3 will involve the installation of gravity pipelines south of Hudson Bayou and taking Lift Station 7 out of service.
Because the construction plan called for the contractor to be working in the vicinity of the Lincoln Drive water main, he continued, staff included the water main’s replacement as an adjunct to the lift station work. That water line, he added, “needs to be replaced.”
A state revolving fund loan will cover the cost of the lift station work, Tidwell pointed out, while capital improvement plan revenue allocated to the Utilities Department will cover the water main work.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) has approved the loan, he noted.
Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie asked why the expense of the lift station had risen from the original $16-million estimate.
That estimate was put together, Tidwell replied, before the design work began. “We went through quite a bit of public involvement to come up with a design and appearance. …That has added some costs.”
A revised estimate of $19.1 million was presented to a previous City Commission, Tidwell added.
“The important thing to keep in mind here is it was a slow economy [when that figure was proposed],” Capital Projects Division Engineer Tony Centurione explained to Freeland Eddie.
The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has noted an uptick oaf about 130% in the cost of structural concrete in recent months, Centurione added. “There’s been some cost escalation in the construct industry at large.”
Referring to the $21,127,000 bid from PCL, Freeland Eddie said of the increase for the lift station, “That’s $3 million.”
Another big expense, Tidwell explained, will be the removal and replacement of the wet well for the lift station. It was not installed at the appropriate depth, he added. The excavation expense alone is about $2 million. Overall, that part of the project will cost about $5 million, he said.
“And who decided that that was necessary?” Freeland Eddie asked.
“The existing well is not deep enough to work,” Tidwell told her. The original design for the project did not allow sufficient clearance under the bayou, he pointed out.
Hurricanes and the lawsuit
“Do we have any other options at this point?” Commissioner Hagen Brody asked.
The new lift station will be able to survive the wind and storm surge of a Category 3 hurricane, Tidwell responded, because of its design. That lift station will serve Sarasota Memorial Hospital — along with about one-third of the entire city, City Manger Tom Barwin added. “We need a structure here that will be able to provide service long-term for the community, and it’s going to take a facility of this magnitude,” Tidwell said.
In the event of an emergency, Tidwell added, the hospital’s continuing functioning — as it is a regional facility — would be critical. “We need to be able to take care of their wastewater needs.”
When Brody then asked whether the expense is comparable to the cost of similar structures, Tidwell explained, “This is exceptional because of the location and the area being served. We’ve got a considerable amount of redundancy … built into the lift station to ensure that it will operate at all times. … We’ve got two backup generators … in case we lose [Florida Power & Light Co. service] and one of our generators. We would still be able to operate.”
Then Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch pointed out that she recalled discussions about not trying to build Lift Station 87 to sustain a hurricane more powerful than a Category 3 because of the added expense. “What’s the impact if you have a Category 4 or 5?” she asked Tidwell.
It might survive a Category 4 storm, he replied, while it probably would sustain some damage with a Category 5 event. In the latter situation, he continued, he was not certain whether it would be able to keep operating.
The storm surge level for a Category 3 hurricane is 24 feet, he explained. The ground in Luke Wood Park has an elevation of 11 feet, he noted.
To withstand the storm surge a Category 4 or 5 storm would bring, Tidwell continued, the lift station would have to have a much greater height than has been planned, “and then cost would come into play.”
Addressing the expense, Barwin pointed out that Phase 1 of the project came in under budget; it was paid for out of cash reserves.
Robert Garland, vice president of McKim & Creed, the engineering consulting firm working on the Lift Station 87 project, noted that the estimate for Phase 1 was $11 million, but the work was completed for $7.7 million. Furthermore, Garland said, the goal is to try to achieve savings through engineering initiatives with the construction of the building.
Additionally, Barwin told the commissioners, “We are in a very serous lawsuit” with the firm — AECOM — that handled the engineering for the original Lift Station 87 project. Because of what he characterized as, “to say the least, poor engineering,” the microtunneling phase AECOM designed would have come close to hitting the footings on the Osprey Avenue bridge, Barwin noted, and it likely could have struck them. The lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial in July 2018, he added. “We believe there’s significant, significant liability.”
The legal case dates to Feb. 25, 2013, when the city filed suit against AECOM.
Barwin said he is hopeful the city will win a settlement that will help it recover much of its expenses to-date with the lift station work.
“That’s an ‘if’ at this point,” Freeland Eddie responded.
Brody asked about the potential for improving Lift Station 7 instead of proceeding with Lift Station 87.
“Lift Station 7 operates at an optimum level,” Tidwell responded. We do give a lot of special attention to Lift Station 7,” he added, drawing a chuckle from Commissioner Willie Shaw.
The city has been under a consent order with FDEP to decommission Lift Station 7 because of numerous sewage spills in years past.
“Putting money into 7 is not an option at this point?” Brody asked.
The project team did consider that, Garland replied. Because of site constraints, Garland added, that “was just physically not an option.”
Then Mark Brewer, president of Angie Brewer & Associates of Bradenton — which works on a consulting basis with the city — told the commissioners, “There has been a lot of volatility in the bidding environment recently [for construction projects].”
(Brewer & Associates is handling the state revolving loan fund process for the city.)
The interest on the loan is 2.5%, he added. If the city is able to save money on the project and does not end up needing the full loan amount, Brewer said, the city can reduce the amount of the loan without any difficulty.
At that point, Commissioner Willie Shaw made a motion to approve the agreement with PCL Construction. Vice Mayor Liz Alpert seconded it. The unanimous vote approving the motion came close to 26 minutes after Tidwell began his presentation.