The council held a special meeting on Aug. 17 as it works toward approving new, less expensive plans for a civic center design by December so the project can go back out to bid in January.
The council voted in early June to make changes to the civic center design after the lowest of the only two construction bids for the project came in at $56.4 million, 40 percent higher than the town consultant's $40.5 million estimate. The town had prequalified five firms to bid, but three of them dropped out.
This time around, the town says it will open the bidding to any qualified construction firms. If the bid process timetable can be met, and a bid affordable to the town comes in, the project will be at least six months behind schedule.
The council had earlier voted to try to get the cost of the library down to $16 million, which was how much the town expected to have in the fund for the library construction. Atherton's library is part of the county library system and some of Atherton property owners' taxes go directly to the library. For years, library property tax revenues generated in Atherton that aren't needed to run the library have been set aside to pay for the new library.
But library officials say they may be willing to loan Atherton several years' worth of those excess tax revenues to help pay library construction costs. The loan would be repaid with future excess library property tax revenues. The governing board of the Joint Powers Authority, which runs the county library system, will vote on Sept. 17 whether to loan the money. City Manager George Rodericks estimated that the loan would bring the total amount of funding available to build the library up to $22.7 million.
The cuts approved by the council bring the estimated cost of the new library, before design costs and contingencies, to $20.13 million.
Rodericks said that with contingencies and design costs, he estimates the total library cost to now be $23.3 million.
Council member Rick DeGolia, who is on the library JPA governing board, said the additional funding "gives us more flexibility to include in this library the best we can do and what the (library) staff wants."
Nonetheless, council members voted to make most of the changes that had been recommended by a working group that included architect WRNS Studio, members of the town's Civic Center Advisory Committee, and library and town employees.
Some ideas that had initially been presented as possible cost-cutting measures — including delaying renovations of the historic building the town now uses as council chambers, eliminating the plan to make library walls out of rammed earth and reducing the square footage of the library — were not recommended.
Eliminating the rammed earth walls, which help save energy, muffle noise — important because of the nearby train tracks — and eliminating interior structural supports could have saved more than $850,000.
"Initially we were inclined not to go with (the rammed earth design)," DeGolia said. But the potential benefits, especially in reducing train noise, convinced the group working on the cost reductions that the design feature was worth the money, he said.
And, as WRNS architect John Schleuter told the council about the rammed earth design: "It's beautiful."
The approved changes include:
• Using less expensive windows ($900,000 estimated savings);
• Removing plans for built-in furniture and shelving systems ($605,000 estimated savings);
• Eliminating a microgrid battery system that would store power from the library's rooftop solar system ($570,000 estimated savings); and
• Reducing the size of the heat pump in the building so it would only service the library, not the entire civic center ($466,000 estimated savings).
Recommended changes the council did not adopt included eliminating a deck off the adult reading area, adding the utilities need for a future shade garden, and replacing acoustic fabric ceilings with acoustic tile ceilings.
The council will discuss possible cost-saving measures in the design of the building that will house the police and other town offices at its next meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 5.