Canal Winchester City Council OKs design-build contract for McDorman renovations

Scott Gerfen
ThisWeek
Canal Winchester municipal offices

Canal Winchester is moving forward with its plan to turn a former auto museum into the future hub of city operations, including a new community center, but not without debate over the project’s timeline and increasing costs. 

City Council voted 6-1 on April 19 to approve an ordinance authorizing a $4.06 million design-build contract with Ferguson Construction Co. to renovate the former McDorman Auto Museum on East Waterloo Street. 

Instead of advertising for public bids from contractors and subcontractors, city officials requested proposals from companies that offer design-build services of an architect and general contractor, a move permitted under the city charter. 

Bill Sims, the city’s construction services manager, expects work to begin later this month with a completion date of Dec. 17. 

“We’re a little bit behind on where we thought we’d be six or eight months ago,” he said. “They’re working very hard to procure materials very quickly with a lot of changes going on in construction and costs right now, particularly in the steel market.” 

When the city closed on the nearly 24,000-square-foot structure in February 2020 at a price of $2.4 million, costs to renovate the museum, formerly owned by the late Bob McDorman were estimated at roughly $2 million, city Development Director Lucas Haire said at the time. 

“The big question on the street is that the estimated costs were $2.2 million; now it’s more than $4 million,” Councilwoman Jill Amos said. 

Early estimates were only “rough ideas,” Sims said. 

“We’re looking at a building that needs over $600,000 in HVAC improvements, which is very substantial, and not a number someone would’ve looked at,” he said. “It’s an existing structure that essentially has no HVAC in it.” 

He also pointed to electric, communication and security needs not in the early estimates that are expected to cost more than $600,000. 

In comparison, when the city looked at constructing a new municipal building in 2008 or 2009 “outside of town,” Mayor Mike Ebert said it would have been “half the size and would’ve been $6 million back then.” 

Amos and council members Will Bennett and Pat Lynch also questioned the need to pass the legislation as an emergency, forgoing the second and third readings and waiving the 30-day delay before the ordinance takes effect. 

“This is a huge project for our community, and I also understand the impact to the timeline,” Bennett said. “That’s my apprehension. What impact would it have if the emergency was removed?” 

The emergency declaration was “cost-driven,” Sims said. 

“We’ve certainly been cost-conscious,” he said, noting a 30-day delay could push the project completion date into next spring.  

“COVID-19 is a factor, as costs are going up weekly,” Sims said. “People are bidding jobs, and by the time they get the job, costs are going up.” 

Councilman Bob Clark said he understands Bennett’s concerns but said officials have been talking about renovating the McDorman building for almost two years. 

“We had a public hearing and how many people did we have come to that public hearing and testify for or against this project?” Clark asked. “I don’t think we had anyone.” 

Lynch, who voted against the contract, said he also is concerned about the size of the new community center because it would be smaller than the current Frances Steube Community Center on Trine Street. 

However, Sims said the meeting areas would be about the same in square footage. 

Part of the project includes demolishing the current community center, which was built in the 1980s, to make way for additional parking. 

In addition, the municipal building at 36 S. High St. and Town Hall, 10 N. High St., will be repurposed for other needs. 

Council chambers, now at Town Hall, will be moved to the new building. 

Bonds to be issued 

Council also voted 6-1, with Lynch voting against, to authorize issuing up to $5 million in bonds for the McDorman building renovations and up to $3 million to complete the first phase of McGill Park. That legislation also was approved as an emergency. 

Canal Winchester purchased 90 acres along Lithopolis-Winchester Road in 2017 to build a multipurpose park in three phases at a cost of up to $6 million. 

The first phase includes construction of four soccer fields, a natural playground, parking and additional trails with an estimated cost of $2.7 million, city Finance Director Amanda Jackson said. 

“That $2.7 million does not include the three-season shelter house,” she told council. “We are going to be paying cash for $1 million of that. The actual issuance (of bonds) is probably much closer to $2 million.” 

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