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Mortenson takes lead to direct Madison Central Library job

By Paul Snyder

The complexity of Madisons Central Library project justifies the extra $375,000 the city will spend on a construction administrator, according to city leaders.

“We’re entering uncharted territory with this project,” said Alderwoman Lauren Cnare. “We’re stripping this building down to its bones and rebuilding it. We don’t know what’s inside.”

To ease concerns and keep the estimated $30 million project on track, Mayor Dave Cieslewicz and some Common Council members are proposing hiring Minneapolis-based M.A. Mortenson Co. as construction administrator.

The Madison Public Library Board on Thursday will vote on the contract.

Jeanne Hoffman, the city’s facilities and sustainability manager, said the library rebuild is the first city-financed project to use a construction administrator. She said Mortenson will review plans and specifications and manage change-order requests during the project. However, Hoffman said, Mortenson’s role as administrator will prevent it from working as general contractor on the project.

Cnare said the Central Library rebuild is arguably the most complex project the city ever built and not a good fit for city staff members to manage, even though doing so could save the city the $375,000.

“This isn’t a smaller building or a roof repair,” Cnare said. “City staff is already extraordinarily busy with other projects like this downtown rail station. It’s already taking hours out of folks’ days.”

Any delays could drive up the library’s cost, Cnare said, so an administrator anticipating problems and coordinating work could be more valuable than $375,000.

“Honestly,” she said, “I think we’ll make that money back in a heartbeat.”

The Common Council in May approved hiring an administrator when council members voted in favor of rebuilding the existing Central Library on West Mifflin Street instead of building a new library elsewhere.

Alderwoman Thuy Pham-Remmele was the only council member to oppose the motion to hire an administrator, but she said her opposition was based on the city’s changing Central Library plans.

“It’s annoying to me that we would change so fast from one idea that’s being sold to us as the greatest thing ever to something completely different,” she said. “I still have questions about the project.”

The city last year selected Madison-based The Fiore Cos. Inc. to lead a development team that would have built a new Central Library on West Washington Avenue. Under the terms of that agreement, the Fiore team would have designed and built the building’s exterior and used the money generated from the project to buy the existing Central Library site for redevelopment. The city would have designed and built the new library’s interior.

But the estimated $37 million proposal fell apart earlier this year when the city could not agree on a final project price with Fiore. Cieslewicz then began a city campaign to abandon a new building project and rebuild the existing library.

The difficulties and uncertainties with rebuilding that library require the city do all it can to insure itself with an administrator, Cnare said.

“We know there are issues with the roof and mold,” she said, “but we have no idea what we’re going to find when we open that thing up, and frankly, I’m a little scared.”

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