City faces building bottleneck

Posted: Wednesday, April 16, 2008

City construction projects worth $60 million are heading into a bottleneck that some expect will clog by or before July 2009, when 17 city building and renovation projects are expected to be going on simultaneously.

Rob Stapleton / Alaska Journal Of Commerce
Rob Stapleton / Alaska Journal Of Commerce

City Engineering Director Roger Healy advised the Assembly Public Works and Facilities Committee on Monday that the number of city construction projects is likely to surpass the ability of local designers and contractors to build them.

"You will be delaying at some point," Healy said.

Unless plans change, four major projects, worth a total of $42 million, will go out for bids nearly simultaneously next fall. City employees said the projects could consume the last of Juneau's already thin work force.

In a memo to the Assembly Public Works and Facilities Committee, Healy provided a framework for the Assembly to consider the possibility of delaying some projects and spacing the work out.

Topping Healy's list of projects for possible delay are Juneau International Airport terminal renovations and the new Consolidated Public Works Facility. Each project holds a 15-month construction schedule, and the pair is expected to cost $18 million.

The concern of too much work at once has been on Healy's mind for a year, Assembly member Merrill Sanford said. Construction projects got bunched up by delays in the Juneau-Douglas High School remodel and the four-year delay in building Thunder Mountain High School, he said.

Sanford agreed a problem is forthcoming.

"It just keeps pilling up, and we're going to get into trouble," he said.

Healy told members of the Assembly that intentional delays from a couple of months to a year could keep the city from seeking out-of-state companies to join the building frenzy.

For years, building supplies have carried annual inflation rates of 20 percent or more. Any delay will most certainly raise project costs, Healy said.

"We all know the implications of delaying," Healy said.

Marketing the work, which includes the third phase of Bartlett Regional Hospital's expansion and the Dimond Park swimming pool, to firms facing recession in the Northwest could alleviate congestion. But, Healy said, the idea had local image problems.

"Either way has financial implications," Healy said.

Assembly member Jonathan Anderson said he could consider a delay option if it keeps most of the $60 million in work for local contractors and tradesmen, even if delays cost more in the long run.

"The Assembly does look to the manger's and engineer's offices to give advice," Anderson said.

City Manager Rod Swope said he doesn't favor delaying projects; instead he favors letting the market sort things out by keeping to the schedule.

Healy said Swope's route of letting the chips fall where they may will see some projects fail.

"I'm not advocating delays at this point," Swope said. "I'd have to be convinced that there's an advantage."

Swope and Healy began organizing a meeting Tuesday with the heads at the hospital, pool, airport, public facilities and the school district in an effort to look for suggestions that avoid delays, such as project phasing. Sanford asked that local construction firms be included in the discussions.

Recommendations are expected to be forwarded to the Assembly in early May.

• Contact reporter Greg Skinnerat 523-2258 or e-mail

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