Escalating construction costs challenge Gardiner’s Johnson Hall as the new year approaches

A rainy view of the Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center on Water Street in downtown Gardiner on July 9. Joe Phelan / Kennebec Journal dossier

KEEP – Earlier this month, the Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center received $ 100,000 in community development block grants that will help pay for the renovations scheduled to begin in April.

But even if this federal funding brings Johnson Hall closer to its fundraising goal, the impact of inflation from the pandemic is expected to affect the ultimate cost of the project.

Ganneston Construction, the Augusta-based construction manager for the historic opera house renovation project, worked out the expected costs for the project.

“When we originally priced the project it was lower,” said Stacey Morrison, owner and CEO of Ganneston Construction.

Now, said Morrison, his company is developing cost estimates with a built-in contingency.

“Are we seeing numbers going down? Who knows what’s going to happen, honestly? Morrison said.

In 2021, fundraising continued at a sustained pace and 2022 should be the same.

In July, Michael Miclon, executive artistic director of Johnson Hall, announced that construction would begin in April. At the same time, he announced a fundraising matchmaking challenge, thanks to a donation of $ 250,000 from Peter and Sandra Prescott and the EJP team.

This matching goal was met in November, leaving the project as close as possible to meeting its fundraising goal of $ 5.5 million.

In April, Johnson Hall submitted a request to the office of U.S. Representative Jared Golden, D-Maine, for $ 350,000 in federal funds under the Community Projects Funding program, under which each office of Congress can submit requests. federal funding for projects in their districts. as part of the federal budget. U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King also included Johnson Hall in their demands.

The amount, intended to fund life and safety projects like a sprinkler system, was increased to $ 411,710 and was passed by the United States House of Representatives as part of its appropriation process. . Since then, an ongoing series of resolutions extending federal government funding has delayed budget decisions. The most recent standing resolution passed interim funding to keep the federal government operating until mid-February, but it does not fund the Community Projects Funding Program.

Other fundraising efforts and donations brought Johnson Hall closer to his goal.

But as Johnson Hall continued to plan his construction project, the global COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the production of building materials, the supply chains that bring them to market, and the supply of workers. This is reflected in the construction costs of a wide range of projects, including that of Johnson Hall.

When Johnson Hall launched its fundraising campaign in September 2016, the cost was set at $ 4.3 million, a target that has been revised over the past five years due to rising costs.

In 2019, the Regional Commission for the Northern Frontier granted $ 387,000 for accessibility improvements to the building. Miclon said the community development block grant funds announced earlier this month should cover cost increases to make the theater fully accessible.

Other costs are also changing.

“We are prepared for an increase in material and labor costs that have developed due to COVID-19 and therefore plan to continue fundraising during construction,” Miclon said.

Mike Adams, the Johnson Hall Project Estimator and Project Manager for Ganneston Construction, said the majority of the bids that were submitted with a disclaimer.

“I kind of say in a fun, easy way that the deals are good until the ink dries,” Adams said. “In today’s market, it’s easier to get a firm quote for a job lasting three to six months than for a job that lasts, say, one, two or three years. Entrepreneurs sometimes feel like they’re putting their whole business on the line because they don’t really know where things are going to end up.

In general, steel quotes have been good for about 30 days, he said. Now they are good for about five to seven days.

“When we say we anticipate a contingency, we’ve built a factor into our price that if the steel goes up by the time we actually start a project, we have a built-in escalation for that,” Adams said. . “If it doesn’t and those funds aren’t used, they go back to the owner. “

For Adams, the only other event he saw in his career competing economically with the pandemic was the energy crisis of the 1970s, when the price of energy skyrocketed. At the time, he was working in the field for another contractor.

“It was a pretty wild spectacle to try to get projects going pretty quickly and stay on budget,” he said. “It was similar, but not the magnitude it is now.”

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