By Neil Johnson - Sep 14, 2022
A consultant hired by a private booster group, that’s pushing to construct an ice arena and convention center along Milton Avenue, says a simpler and more streamlined design could “significantly” bring down the $60 million estimated price tag.
In a Sept. 9 letter obtained by The Gazette, Missouri consultant Chiodini Architects told the city of Janesville’s Ad Hoc Arena Design Committee that preliminary plans for the public-private Woodman’s Sports and Convention Center appear to have been compiled with “absolutely no thought given to the budget” for the project.
Friends of the Indoor Sports Complex, the booster group that says it’s so far privately raised about $4.5 million for the Woodman’s Center, proposed to go on the site of a shuttered Sears store at the Uptown Janesville shopping mall, hired Chiodini last week to crosscheck designs that recently came back at almost twice the cost of earlier projections.
The company said other consultants the city is paying to generate design and cost estimates for a two-sheet ice arena and attached 20,000-square-foot convention space seem to have a firm grasp of current inflationary pressures that are at least part of the reason for the recent increase and resulting sticker shock.
But Chiodini’s analysts went on to say that the city is now trying to hack away at millions in cost overruns in part because the most recent estimate includes building materials and structural design concepts that are “unnecessary”—and unnecessarily expensive—for a project that has yet to gain city approval or attain full public or private funding.
In a report submitted to the arena design committee, Chiodini suggested the city should eschew plans to build a “multi-dimensional,” two-level ice arena out of a precast concrete shell, and instead design a one-story space using pop-up concrete walls in a manner similar to how commercial big box stores are built.
In addition to the assessment that “there are too many varying heights for the building” in design plans done for the city this year by Zimmerman Architectural Studios, Chiodini wrote that the project’s architectural design elements generally seem too opulent and too costly for a public recreation center.
It is “not necessary for a ‘sand blast finish’ on precast (wall) panels,” the Chiodini report said, adding that “limestone veneer is too expensive a material to use for a community rink and rec center.”
Chiodini went on to write that a multi-tiered architectural façade for the project would come at an excess cost that “can be easily remedied” with a “one-story, common height structure” of tilt-up concrete panels.
The consultant also told the city that there’s no need to require an upper-tier floor or for both ice sheets to be “sunken” 5 feet in the ground—moves that would require costly buildouts of ramps, stairs and other design features.
Chiodini, a recreation center designer, has had no prior involvement in the Woodman’s Center project, and its assessment sent to the city last week includes no estimates on actual cost savings.
The city has separately has been reviewing a pitch by consultants it has worked with on the project, with an aim of knocking out millions in cost overruns.
The city already has generated two pages of potential cuts: one that has a long list of “value engineering” trims to that could cut about $8.7 million from the project, according to documents The Gazette obtained from the city through an open records request.
Another page of potential cuts show savings of as much as $16 million through delays to full completion of parts of the arena and convention hall. The city has prominently marked that list as “Items removed per city as inconsistent with business plan and intent of project.”
A city spokesman, in a note to The Gazette last week, wrote that the city’s cuts as proposed are “preliminary” and viewed as a “starting point” for further discussions to roll out in a city committee meeting next week.
Christine Rebout is director of the nonprofit Janesville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and a member of the friends group that commissioned Chiodini’s crosscheck.
In a letter to the city that accompanied Chiodini’s study, Rebout wrote that “it is hoped that this outside perspective from the A&E industry can assist the current design thinking and process of which all parties remain engaged to deliver a productive outcome that re-aligns the project to the original financial expectations without dramatically changing scope.”
The project initially was estimated to cost about $35 million, but newer estimates show a cost of almost $59 million, a figure that includes $6 million in contingency padding.
Rebout has said publicly that her tourism group and members of the friends group don’t want to see cuts to the ice arena or convention center plans that would hamper a business model that private estimates show could generate $10 million a year in new revenue on the city’s retail-heavy northeast side.
The city likely won’t reach critical mass on full costs for the project until later this year, and it’s not clear whether the arena design committee or city staff will embrace Chiodini’s analysis and go on to cut project costs.
Mike Payne, the city of Janesville’s public works director and the city’s lead coordinator of the arena design committee, in a note to the committee suggested it remain open to suggestions from private stakeholders as part of a “comprehensive and well-rounded approach” to designing the Woodman’s Center.
On Wednesday, Rebout said the Chiodini study gives the city and private boosters another avenue to weigh possible cost savings as they move toward the halfway point in the design process.
“We’re gathering all the information so we bring more resources in, and that’s kind of how we’ll work through to get the project that best benefits the community in the end,” Rebout said. “We’ll gather more info. This probably isn’t the last resource we’re going to bring to the table.”
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