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CONTRACTORS' LEAN TIMES TRIM PROJECT EXPENSES

Bids show New Port Richey's public works facility will cost less than the city expected.

Perhaps it is a sign of the times: Bids for the city's new public works facility came in at least a million dollars lower than expected.

Of the seven companies that submitted bids, Bandes Construction made the lowest offer, $4.73-million. Tonight the City Council will consider accepting that bid, with an additional $41,000 on top of it for wetlands mitigation.

Twice as big as its current location, the new public works facility will be just west of the Pine Hill Little League Field and will house administrative offices, the operations center and millions of dollars of heavy equipment.

Attracting all the competition helped bring down the facility's costs, said acting City Manager Tom O'Neill. The prices of materials are also lower than when the city first started planning the project nearly two years ago.

By contrast, when the city's recreation complex went out for bid in 2005, only two companies responded. This was during the home-building boom, and the bids came in at $13.38-million and $13.4-million - well more than the estimated price of $9.1-million a year earlier.

But the market has changed.

"The contractors," said O'Neill, "are hungry."

Pasco County, which is in the process of building five new and replacement fire stations, is also seeing evidence of declining construction costs.

Assistant County Administrator Dan Johnson said bids on the fire stations are coming in $200,000 to $250,000 less than anticipated.

In New Port Richey, the new facility will be paid for out of the city's public works enterprise funds - from user fees, not property taxes - and Penny for Pasco sales tax dollars. The total bid, $4.8-million, does not include permitting costs, but O'Neill said he still expects the price tag to come in at least a million dollars below the $6.5-million the city had budgeted.

The public works facility will be built on a 14-acre city-owned parcel that was once used for debris storage. At one point, the city buried concrete from a dismantled building on the property. Removing that concrete will be part of the contract, O'Neill said.

Construction of the new facility will encroach onto existing wetlands, so the Southwest Florida Water Management District is requiring the city to construct about a half-acre of artificial wetlands.

Once a bid is awarded, project construction could begin about two months later and last for nearly a year. The city will keep a handful of its nearly 65 public works employees at the existing facility, which is also on Pine Hill Road.

"I'm excited to be able to get the project moving," O'Neill said. "Basically, we ran out of room a long time ago."

Times staff writer Molly Moorhead contributed to this report. Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

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