Assembly continues talking about public safety building, water plant rebuilds

When Amber Al-Haddad inherited the Public Safety Building project as the borough’s capital facilities director in 2018, she was told the building simply needed a paint job.

The now 34-year-old building needed, and still needs, much more than that. The assembly convened in a work session Monday night to discuss a phased rehabilitation plan for overhauling the water- and rot-damaged building, a plan it had requested of Al-Haddad at its Nov. 9 assembly meeting.

The latest proposal comes with an estimated price tag of at least $14.7 million, in three phases.

The first phase would address top priorities like replacing the roof, drains, structural framing, siding, interior wallboard, exterior doors and windows, interior finishes and electric/telecom work for reconstructing the court area.

The first-phase estimate is $4.5 million.

The second phase, at $3.6 million, would address the fire alarm and sprinkler system, heating and ventilation and temperature controls, firewall repairs and seismic ceiling bracing, and underground fuel tank replacement.

The third phase would include adding a sloped metal roof, additional interior work, a backup generator, more electrical work and modernizing the elevator, totaling $6.5 million.

The 2020 estimates have not been updated to reflect inflation since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Assemblymember David Powell took affront to the sloped roof not being put on right away, and said he would not sign off on a project that replaces a flat roof with a flat roof, lest his kids one day sit in his seat and debate what to do with the flat roof repair 30 years later.

Finance Director Mason Villarma said funding is intact for Phase I, but, after that, “you’re going to have to go out to bond.”

Assembly members spent much of the meeting debating what is really needed. The building houses the police department, indoor shooting range, fire department, jail, motor vehicle and driver licensing office, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, and state court offices.

Mayor Steve Prysunka floated giving up the court offices in town.

Police Chief Tom Radke said the main thing with a court office in Wrangell is convenience. “A lot of people will miss it when it’s not here,” he said, but everything is being done via Zoom anyway. “You don’t see a judge maybe once a month.”

The assembly requested interim Borough Manager Jeff Good and Al-Haddad “go back and verify the spaces required for the police, fire, DMV, jail and courthouse,” Good said. “Once we have the space requirements, they would like an estimate on how much a new facility would cost given the space requirements.”

Next on the list of unresolved municipal projects was a review of the updated engineering report, project funding and timeline for improvements to the community’s water treatment plant. The assembly discussed, but made no decisions on this one either.

Five years have passed since the original estimated cost of about $9 million, Al-Haddad said. The updated preliminary engineering report now puts the cost at $15.5 million.

In addition to U.S. Department of Agriculture funding approved in 2017 and 2019, there is additional federal funding of $1 million, leaving a shortfall of about $5.4 million.

Another problem, she said, is that the grants and loans are set to expire. A USDA loan for $3.8 million and a USDA grant for nearly $3.2 million, both received in September 2017, terminate in September 2023.

A nearly $3 million federal Economic Development Administration grant approved in September 2019 terminates September 2024.

The economic development agency has indicated it would consider terminating the grant in September 2022 if the project has not advanced to the design phase, Al-Haddad wrote in the statement to the assembly.

Similar to EDA, the USDA has indicated no further time extensions will be considered until the borough signs an engineering design contract.

The borough has reached out to its federal and state lobbyists to see if one-year extensions are possible. “Having this time extension would give the borough time to seek the additional $5.4 million needed for full project funding,” Al-Haddad wrote.

Al-Haddad said USDA is putting pressure on the borough to enter the engineering design phase, but if funding isn’t secured for actual construction, a costly design would be futile.

“If something did go awry, we may have to shelve a $1 million design,” Good said.


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