Almanac

News - July 23, 2014

Atherton civic center plan moves ahead

by Barbara Wood

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 over a three-year period. 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 to build the complex. 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. Mr. Widmer asked if the contract amount could increase if the funding is delayed.

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

Council member Rick DeGolia said it is important to note that the not-to-exceed cost of the contract, $896,573, is for the entire three-year life of the project. For the design phase, which is as far as the town will go before the private funding has been raised, the cost is $233,680, according to the staff report by Community Services Director Mike Kashiwagi.

According to town officials, the fundraising campaign for the civic center project will officially start in the fall. By that time, however, 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.

Council member DeGolia said the library funds should cover about 30 percent of the projected total project cost, and the additional funds, which are set aside for the building department offices, another 10 percent.

Those funds will be used to pay 40 percent of the initial costs of the project management, Mr. DeGolia said after the meeting. Even if the town has to abandon the civic center project because it can't raise the private funding, he said, there should be no money coming out of the town's general funds. The likelihood of not raising enough to pay the remaining 60 percent "in my opinion ... is zero," 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.

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