CHICOPEE — The city officially closed out the first phase of the City Hall renovation project with a series of financial moves and is now moving on to the second phase.
The City Council voted in 2018 to borrow up to $16 million for the renovation project that included critical work to make structural repairs to the brick façade that was bowing out, fix eroded sandstone columns and shore up poor-quality brickwork in the tower that was failing.
The project also included a complete rebuilding of the auditorium, including repairing the stained-glass windows, replacing failing plaster and installing a modern audio and video recording system. The project also renovated all the restrooms to make them accessible to the disabled.
“The City Council authorized $16 million the city has only used $14 million of that because of creativity in finding grants for certain parts of this project,” Mayor John L. Vieau said.
The $16 million authorization is only on paper. The city only borrowed money as needed throughout the project so $2 million was never withdrawn. The request to rescind the authorization is an accounting detail and needed to be done so it does not drag down the city’s bond rating, Vieau said.
But he also requested two amounts, about $290,000 and an additional nearly $8,000 that was borrowed but ended up not being used be transferred to the second phase of the project.
“You can’t return it because it is a long-term borrow. You can’t put it in free cash because that would be illegal, so the solution is to find another capital project with a longer useful life or a similar useful life,” Vieau said.
It also cannot be used to pay principal or interest from the loan.
The $290,000 was borrowed as part of the last amount needed to complete the first phase renovations. When the final accounting was completed, there were a number of credits from contractors that created the surplus, City Planner Lee Pouliot said.
The City Council last week approved both transactions in 12-0 votes.
“Mass. General Law allows us to transfer the $290,000 to phase 2 of the project. I think it is reflective of the city’s commitment to do things as cost-effectively as possible,” City Councilor Shane Brooks said.
The city should learn the cost estimates for the second phase of the project once the 40% design phase is completed, which is expected in the next few weeks, Vieau said.
Initial estimates for the project were between $5 million to $7 million but those prices are years old and were very preliminary. Some of the work has changed since then and construction costs have increased, he said.
While the first phase repaired the structure and made the building more energy efficient by upgrading the heating system and replacing the windows, the second phase will modernize the interior of the building and make some cosmetic improvements, he said.
“The employees who work here deserve to be in a nice space,” he said.
The project is expected to move some offices and reconfigure others so those most frequently used by the public will be closer to the entrances making it more efficient and easier for the public.
A long-standing problem with a lack of handicap accessibility to some offices, including the City Clerk, will also be corrected with a small elevator that will go between two floors.
A lot of cosmetic work is expected to be done such as replacing worn and stained carpet and ceiling tiles and painting, Vieau said.