After a four-year process, the city of Laramie has started making major strides in its North Campus Service project, the new hub for the public works department north of town.
During Tuesday’s regular meeting, the Laramie City Council voted to approve the site and facilities lease for the new Solid Waste building. It also voted to appoint a construction manager at risk and an owner’s representative for the project. The two representatives and the lease approval allow the project’s collaborators to finish the design phase and to look toward the construction phase starting in January.
“We’re finally to a point where we can actually bid the project and go to construction,” said Earl Smith, Public Works director.
The location for the new facilities is the former WyoTech campus north of the city, and it will house the Public Works Department and its equipment as well as equipment for other departments, including the Parks and Recreation Department’s Mosquito Control department.
Council voted to approve the terms of a professional agreement with Ascent Construction to deem the company the construction manager at risk, which means they assume the risks of the project instead of the city, Smith said.
“They will do some of the work themselves, but their primary role for this project is to serve as construction manager.” Smith said. “This is where they bid all subcontractor work out, so the local firms — the electricians and plumbers and carpenters, and so forth — all get an opportunity to bid on their particular area of interest and expertise.”
Once Ascent Construction has compiled all the bids, they will generate a guaranteed max price for the project, Smith added. This price will be presented to the City Council in early 2019 for it to approve and will include Ascent Construction’s contract fees for the construction portion of the project.
Vice Mayor Jayne Pearce asked when the construction would finally take place, since this has been such a long process.
“We will finalize the design during the month of December,” Smith said. “After first of year, we will start bidding the project and getting subcontractors on board. It’ll be about an 11-12-month construction process, so this time next year the project should be completed.”
While Ascent Construction will be taking on the construction risk, Smith said Plan One Architecture will be serving as the city’s “owner’s representative” for the project.
“This is a rather complicated project,” Smith said. “It’s in our best interest to have an owner’s representative. That’s what Plan One will do, they contract directly with us and, during the bidding and the construction phase, they’ll basically do contract services for the city.”
While the Council has also been working on a process to acquire the funding to purchase the buildings on the North Campus, it looked especially at the lease for the new Solid Waste Building during Tuesday’s meeting. To acquire the building, the city must use a “lease leaseback financing” process with a building authority.
A common process throughout the country, the city or other government entities set up and work with a building authority, a nonprofit entity that can help finance larger projects on a tax-exempt basis. The building authority works with banks to obtain low interest bonds, which the city pays back over time via lease payments. Once all the bonds are repaid, the financed project can be transferred to the government entity.
Kaiser Wealth Management helped prepare the documents to have the building authority issue the bonds, and Todd Bishop, president and CEO for Kaiser, said they sent bid requests to “all banks in Albany County and Laramie County.”
Bishop said of the $2.35 million in bonds to be issued, the top bids were from First Interstate Bank and the Wyoming Bank and Trust, with proposed allocations of over $1.66 million and $685,000, respectively.
Pearce asked if the public could also buy bonds to help fund the project. Bishop said the possibility was investigated, but predicted doing so would affect costs and rates for the city.
“We can do that, but there’s going to be a price to pay to do that,” Bishop said. “Is it worth making those bonds available to a few individuals who want a tax-exempt income, or do we want to save ourselves issuance costs and get a lower interest rate?”
With eight yes votes and one absent, the City Council voted to approve the lease for both the site and the facilities services for the Solid Waste building, as well as the professional agreements with Ascent Construction and Plan One Architects.