ZEPHYRHILLS — First it was the new library, spiking 30 percent over budget late last year before any shovel broke ground. Now it's the Sixth Avenue fire station rehabilitation project, with City Council members staring down a potential $245,000 tab for cost overruns.
The project, approved in 2012 with a budget of just over $1 million, has no contingency fund, public works director Shane LeBlanc said.
"Are you kidding me?" said council member Alan Knight. "We're in a real pickle here; we're already neck deep in this."
LeBlanc, who replaced the retiring Rick Moore as public works director after the project started, said one reason the project has no contingency is because it is not being funded by one source. A $750,000 community development block grant is covering most of the budget, with $342,300 coming from Penny for Pasco sales tax revenues and the rest from the city's utility fund.
The project's initial scope included replacing a retaining wall, adding a parking lot and new sidewalk, removing the metal tower, adding a new entrance and emergency generator and updating the interior to meet current codes. But when workers began demolition work, they discovered a slew of hidden problems, architect Leo Arroyo said.
The south side of the building, for instance, was originally slated to get a new stucco finish. But when a metal panel came off, workers saw the walls have no reinforcement.
"They don't even meet the 1960s code," said Arroyo.
He estimated at least half of the existing walls are not built to code and are in need of bracing and reinforcements. "If a wind comes in, no building."
Steel beams are severely corroded, Arroyo added — a condition that was not visible during pre-engineering inspections because of insulation coverings. A portion of the building was constructed over an existing sidewalk, which was supposed to be removed but now cannot because it's holding up the wall, he said. Workers ran into another problem when they discovered the foundation of a water tower that came down in 1985 had been covered up but never removed; properly demolishing that caused more delay, Arroyo said.
Council members questioned why they were not informed of the problems when they first surfaced.
"These have been slowly revealing, as the demolition has progressed," said Arroyo. "It's been very frustrating. Are we going to find more? My god, I hope not."
LeBlanc also noted that there have been three department head changes since the project began — his position, the fire chief and the city manager — and that he has communicated issues with the project up his chain of command.
Arroyo said workers have stopped demolition in order to obtain special equipment that will allow them to scan the remaining walls, which will give a better picture of what lies beneath. City Manager Steve Spina told the council he will work with staff, the architect and construction manager to bring back a more definitive report on what needs to be done and how much it will cost.
Revenues from the Penny for Pasco sales tax have been higher than expected, Spina added, which will help cover additional project costs.
That morsel of good news did little to comfort council members.
"I've been beaten up for a year over the library and now this," council president Charlie Proctor said.
"I'm over this overrunnage."