Concerned about increasing costs, New Albany city officials will seek bids for renovation of former Fred’s building

NEMiss.News plans for former Fred's store
Architect's rendering of what the building will look like when completed.

 

New Albany officials hope to advertise for bids on the renovation of the former Fred’s building in February. Eventually, the building will be the new home for the New Albany light, gas and water (NALGW) and police departments. The result of those bids will determine how quickly and how much work may begin.

The city – more accurately the light, gas and water department – purchased the building about a year ago. The city has needed more space for its departments for several years. The closing and availability of Fred’s appeared to be an opportune time to solve part of those problems.

Clockwise from upper left are Ross Barkley, Samantha Campbell, electric department engineer Will Denton, Ward Two Alderman Johnny Anderson, Mayor Tim Kent, Police Chief Chris Robertson (mostly hidden), Assistant Chief Clay Keener and Light, Gas and Water Manager Bill Mattox.

They were able to purchase the former retail building for $600,000, slightly less than appraised value. Later, the owner of the nearby WIC nutrition office offered it to the city, which purchased that for $289,000.

The original plan was to include a city courtroom and boardroom in the Fred’s building. However, adding the WIC building meant it could house the combination courtroom and boardroom, leaving more space for the other two departments in the larger building.

At the time, officials had financing worked out with the utility issuing bonds to be repaid by electric department revenue.

A $13.5 million bond issue was to provide $3 million for the Fred’s project and WIC renovation. Most of the rest pays for a needed new power substation on Hwy. 348 to replace the aged one on TVA property. Also included was converting to remote reading of residential electric meters and other electric grid improvements.

However, thanks to manufacturing and transportation problems related to the coronavirus pandemic, the cost of building materials has approximately doubled.

That means the project is going to cost closer to $5 million than $2.4 million.

Since then, officials have been working with architects to modify the design in an effort to cut unnecessary expense, without sacrificing functionality or quality.

New Albany native Ross Barkley and architecture firm Eley Barkley Dale of Oxford are designing the project.

At a planning meeting with city officials Friday, Barkley said the planning work is at about 90 percent complete as his firm works out final details.

“We were going for a nice look, but cost-conscious,” he said. “I think we hit the sweet spot. We’re at about the middle range for everything.”

Although some materials costs are going down, it is only very slightly and not yet significant, he added.

Because of the concern over cost, the project will be bid in several parts in case the city has to begin with limited renovation and proceed one step at a time.

The base bid will include the exterior work on renovation of former Fred’s building, plus the interior half of the building designated for NALGW. Technically, NALGW is paying for everything.

Bid alternate one would add completing the police department. Bid alternate two would add exterior work on the WIC building and alternate three would complete work on the WIC building turning it into a municipal courtroom.

A rough architect’s guess is the building work will cost $4 million and furniture and related items will add $200,000 to $300,000, meaning the total would probably end up closer to $5 million.

Mayor Tim Kent said, “We are having to focus on needs more than wants,” but added that he believes light, gas and water manager Bill Mattox and police chief Chris Robertson are satisfied with the plans given the constraints necessary. “I’m all about functionality,” the chief said.

The challenge is paying for the needed project without raising taxes and city officials are working on that now.

Although they are disappointed by the unexpected large materials price increase, they are cautiously optimistic.

“I think it’s going to be something we are proud of,” Ward Two Alderman Johnny Anderson said.

Representing Eley Barkley Dale at Friday’s meeting were Ross Barkley, Shelby Mitchell, Leigh Ann Black and Samantha Campbell.

The proposed ground plan for the Fred’s building with the police department left and NALGW to the right inside the present main entrance.

The former WIC building on Carter Avenue will house municipal court with a courtroom that can serve as city boardroom also.

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