Nearly three years after Tulsa County residents approved a sales tax to build a new $45 million juvenile justice center, the latest estimate shows the project could cost as much as $83 million.
County commissioners were given the news in November.
Commissioner Karen Keith, who spearheaded the campaign to build the facility, said Monday that the public was not informed of the latest estimate because commissioners intended to get the cost within budget. But she also seemed to second-guess how the issue was handled.
“I don’t have any problem” disclosing the estimate, she said. “I just think we ought to tell everyone what’s going on. I’d just as soon have a press conference and say, ‘Here is what is going on.'”
The $83 million cost estimate is significantly higher than what Keith and fellow Commissioner Ron Peters told The Frontier when asked how much the project was now estimated to cost. Peters put the number at about $55 million to $60 million — a figure Keith agreed with.
Peters clarified his statement Monday night, saying he was giving “the number I thought it was going to come in at in a worst case scenario.”
Peters called the latest cost estimate “crazy,” noting that it is about twice what Selser Schaefer Architects said it would cost in 2014 as the county was preparing to bring the project to a vote of the people.
“There is no way that can be right,” Peters said.
[aesop_quote type=”block” background=”#ff9c32″ text=”#ffffff” align=”left” size=”1″ quote=”“There is no doubt in my mind we’ll get there, and we will build this facility and we will do it in short order.'” cite=” County Commissioner Ron Peters” parallax=”off” direction=”left” revealfx=”off”]
But he also insisted that the problem could be resolved by May, when the county is expected to take possession of the Storey Wrecker Service property at 10 N. Elm St., where the new facility is to be built. The Tulsa County Family Justice Center is expected to take at least 18 months to construct.
The county would seek other funding sources, including Vision 2025 funds, Vision Tulsa funds or private dollars to cover the cost, if necessary, Peters said.
“There is no doubt in my mind we’ll get there, and we will build this facility and we will do it in short order,” he said. “This is not going to take months and months to come to a resolution on.”
Peters said commissioners were told part of the reason the price had increased was inflation. He added that he doesn’t question that but that the county is looking into other possible factors.
Selser Schaefer co-founder Janet Selser said her company had nothing to do with producing the $45 million cost estimate that was presented to the public. In fact, an amendment to Selser Schaefer’s original contract with the county shows the firm was working off estimated funding of $38 million.
“We gave building budget numbers for only bricks and mortar to the county when we were asked, and what happened with those after that we have no idea,” she said. “And we don’t know how the number went from our number to what was presented to the citizens of Tulsa.”
The latest cost estimate was produced by the firm managing the project, Manhattan Construction, based on drawings done by Selser Schaefer, Janet Selser said, and reflects “every want that they (the county) wanted, which we all know that is not going to happen.”
“They prepared it with everything that could possibly be imagined on it,” she said.
Commissioners recently approved a $60,000 contract with Stonebridge Consulting. The firm met last week with representatives from Selser Schaefer and Manhattan Construction to see how costs can be reduced, Peters said.
“They (Stonebridge) believe that they can cut this (overage) number in half pretty easily with negotiations with both of the companies,” Peters said.
Peters described Stonebridge’s initial meetings with Selser Schaefer and Manhattan as “productive” and said the architecture firm has already suggested reducing the facility from four floors to two. Manhattan has been given those plans and is expected to come back with a revised cost estimate in two weeks, Peters said.
“That was sort of a pro-active thing that we very much appreciated,” Peters said. “We are not giving anything up in terms of what we need. The site is a big site, we can just make it wider and longer.”
[aesop_quote type=”block” background=”#fcbd2d” text=”#ffffff” align=”left” size=”1″ quote=”“I think it is important to understand that just because that is where the number came back in in November, that is not what is going to be built.'” cite=”Janet Selser” parallax=”off” direction=”left” revealfx=”off”]
Selser said her firm is basing its redesign of the facility on the $41 million budget the county now says it has available for the project — not from any previous cost estimates.
“The program is the same, but we are redesigning the building,” she said. “So we aren’t starting anywhere — we are starting over.”
She also expressed confidence that the project could be built within the $41 million budget.
“I think it is important to understand that just because that is where the number came back in in November, that is not what is going to be built,” Selser said. “There are creative ways of cutting back and accommodating the requirements of the county.”
The latest estimate includes at least $5.6 million that has already been spent to purchase the Storey Wrecker Service property. Peters noted that the county could save another $6 million by simply using its existing furniture and fixtures rather than replacing them.
Commissioners pitched the project as a long overdue replacement for the Tulsa County Juvenile Bureau, 315 S. Gilcrease Museum Road, and said it would cost approximately $45 million. Voters overwhelmingly approved a 15-year, 0.041 percent sales tax to fund the project April 1, 2014.
After considering several properties, the county chose to build the new facility on the old Storey Wrecker site.
The center will be home to all Tulsa County Juvenile Court operations, including courtrooms, meeting rooms, administrative offices and a 96-bed detention center. Court support services such as the Public Defender’s Office will have offices in the new facility. The Community Intervention Center also will operate out of the center.
Peters said he expects Stonebridge’s work to be done before May, when the county is scheduled to take possession of the Storey Wrecker site.
If Selser Schaefer and Manhattan Construction are unable to reduce the cost of the project, Peters said, the county could choose to issue new requests for proposals for architecture, programming and construction management services.
That would take a month or two, and should not affect the construction timeline, Peters said.
“We can’t do anything now because Storey is not out of there,” the commissioner said.
According to county records, Selser Schaefer was hired to work on the project in 2009 and has been paid $1.355 million thus far.
Manhattan wasn’t hired until late last year and has been paid $10,000, according to the county Fiscal Office. Peters said the county would have to pay Manhattan its entire $35,000 fee to end its agreement with the company.
Peters stressed that he was not suggesting that Selser Schaefer or Manhattan Construction had done anything improper but that the county is simply exploring a different approach to the project to find cost savings.
“If you are flush with money, it’s obviously much easier to just say, ‘Go do it. Thank you very much.’” Peters said. “But when you are short, you have to think of ways to get it done.”
Manhattan Construction did not return a call for comment.