Although all the money to pay for a new civic center is still not in hand, Atherton's City Council at its July 16 meeting took a major step toward making a new complex a reality, approving a contract with mack5, a veteran project management firm.
The contract allows mack5 to bill up to nearly $900,000 for managing and advising the town on the design, construction and occupancy of the new center, a process that is expected to take close to three years, according to the staff report. The firm will start by helping to choose the architects for the project.
While the vote to approve the contract was unanimous, with council member Elizabeth Lewis participating via a conference call, the council did not approve it without questions, particularly regarding spending so much without the funds in hand. Town officials have promised that the new civic center will be paid for largely with private funds, and the fundraising campaign has not yet begun.
"I'm struggling with the $900,000," said council member Bill Widmer, who said he would have preferred a fixed-price contract rather than one with a not-to-exceed cap. "I'm just trying to weigh the risk," he said. If the funding doesn't come in, or is delayed, he added, would the cost to the town go up even more?
Mark Kelly, mack5's principal-in-charge, reassured the council. "We're professional services; if we're not doing the work, we're not getting paid for it," he said.
Mayor Cary Wiest said that while he would have appreciated a little more information on such a large contract, he favored its approval. "We obviously need professionals to keep an eye on the project that will be the town of Atherton's biggest in history," he said.
According to mack5's website, the company has provided project, cost and construction management services to a long list of clients, including the cities of Menlo Park, Palo Alto and East Palo Alto, as well as Canada College and Stanford University.
The firm was unanimously recommended by a subcommittee of the town's Civic Center Advisory Committee.
According to town officials, the fundraising campaign for the civic center project will officially start in the fall. However, by that time, they hope to already have commitments for most of the projects' funding. An independent committee will coordinate the fundraising, not the town council, although members may be part of the committee.
The town also has about $10 million in library funds and $2 million in other funds set aside to replace some town offices -- funds that will also go toward the project.