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Madison Central Library project stalls (UPDATE)

By Paul Snyder

Haggling over the best project delivery for a new Central Library in Madison threatens the 2010 construction start date and the team that assembled the proposal.

“At this point, we’re kind of treading water,” said Michael May, the city’s attorney. “I would hope to have an agreement in place in the next few weeks, but the last time we looked at it, it seemed as though construction might be pushed back to 2011.”

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May said the city and development team is considering turning the entire project, estimated at $37 million, into a public works job.

That would be a change from Madison-based The Fiore Cos. Inc.’s original proposal in which the development team designs and builds the library’s exterior and then turns the project over to the city to build the interior.

“You’ve got one project,” May said. “Instead of going through this process with two sets of designers and work, you can just bid it all out at once.”

William Kunkler, Fiore’s executive vice president, said either approach works for Fiore.

“The question to answer is: Do you do what you originally intended and hope for the best as far as the budget goes or bid the whole project out, know where you stand with costs and organize the work accordingly?” he said.

If the city and developer agree to turn the job into a public works project with the city as owner, city law stipulates all construction work would have to go to bid.

The development team Fiore put together consists of Milwaukee-based Irgens Development Partners LLC as a development partner, the Madison office of Eppstein Uhen Architects Inc. as designer and J.H. Findorff & Son Inc., Madison, as general contractor.

Kunkler said a switch in project delivery does not necessarily mean team members will lose guaranteed work.

“We would just have to bid out all the trade work,” he said. “So Findorff would have to bid on that, but they could still serve as a supervisor or construction manager on the project.”

Findorff representatives did not return calls for comment.

Steve Holzhauer, one of Eppstein Uhen’s principals, said he’s been reassured the development team has not disbanded, but he’s still uncertain about the future.

“We interviewed with the city last week for interior design work,” he said. “And Fiore-Irgens said there would be fair compensation for preliminary design work if the team is broken up. But of course, I would love to just continue as planned.

“We’re literally not doing any drawings right now.”

If the private development team does exterior work, Holzhauer said, the project likely could work its way through city approvals in spring and summer and be ready for a late 2010 construction start.

“If it all goes public, then I don’t know,” he said. “We can’t control the timing in that case.”

Kunkler said he still anticipates starting construction this year.

Alderwoman Judy Compton, who opposed putting city money up for the library project in the 2010 budget, said she’s happy the process stalled.

“We were moving too fast on this,” she said. “We needed to stop, step back and rethink this thing. We have to consider the taxpayer as we proceed.”

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