Under Budget Bids Break La. Trend

Thu January 31, 2008 - Southeast Edition
Matt Scallan -THE TIMES-PICAYUNE



DESTREHAN, La. (AP) In a happy surprise for St. Charles Parish officials, bids for a new regional library and administration building in Destrehan have come in on budget, a departure from a trend over the past two years of budget-busting prices for other public improvements.

Bids for the 33,000-sq.-ft. (3,065 sq m) building ranged from $7.9 million to $13 million, and the project drew bids from seven companies.

“We had two bids fall within our budget [of $8.3 million], so I can go through the holidays with a much lighter heart,” Library Director Mary des Bordes said.

Parish’s officials have had sweaty palms when going into a bid opening since Hurricane Katrina, even after adjusting for post-storm prices.

For instance, the price for a hospital expansion rose from a pre-Katrina estimate of $8.7 million to a final bid of $14 million in August 2006.

A project to link the parish’s two water systems by running two pipes under the Mississippi River jumped from an estimated $2.5 million to $4.6 million last year. Construction delays on the second water crossing will bump up the price further.

An expansion of the parish’s east bank water plant also spiraled well beyond the plan’s original $12.3 million estimate in May 2006 to a bid of $24 million in September. And the projected cost of a new pump station on the west bank soared from a pre-storm estimate of $8.6 million to $20 million when bids were received in October.

Engineers for the parish are going back to the drawing board in hopes of paring down the project cost to $17 million.

The library is being built on 5 acres (2 ha) of land donated by the British oil giant BP at the foot of the Hale Boggs Bridge. The site is part of the former Pan American Oil refinery, which shut down in the 1950s. The 880-acre (356 ha) property has been undergoing remediation for hazardous waste for the past 15 years. The majority of the property is ready for development.

The bids are being reviewed by Chenevert Architects for the parish’s Library Board of Control, a parish entity that supervises the library.

However, the Parish Council will decide this month whether to accept Lamar Contractors’ apparent low bid of $7.9 million.

The building will have 25,000 sq. ft. (2,300 sq m) of library space and 8,000 sq. ft. (740 sq m) of administrative offices. The library headquarters will move from Luling, freeing up space in that library for other uses.

The ordinance to accept bids for the project may have been introduced at the Parish Council’s Jan. 14 meeting.

Des Bordes said that once the new building is complete, sometime in 2010, the system will embark on plans for a new branch in the Bayou Gauche, Paradis and Des Allemands area.