By Justin Cox

Killeen Daily Herald

While there are some genuine concerns over the First Baptist Redevelopment Project's potential success, most resistance is driven by money.

Several council members feel that City Manager Connie Green and the staff did not fully disclose all the costs associated with the project.

As a result, the project's costs have appeared to fluctuate, and changing cost estimates are not welcome sights to council members.

For example, the original architectural drawings show a finished project, replete with a revamped courtyard, walkways and a fancy new farmer's market with a covered pavilion.

But when the council reviewed the cost breakdown this past Tuesday, they discovered the farmers market construction is not included in the church redevelopment costs.

The picture of the farmer's market was just included as part of the site plan, but not in the scope of work, Green said. "It wasn't part of the church, so we just put it in a different account."

It's unrelated to the project, and it doesn't have to be built in the same construction period, but it's still an additional $170,000.

Costs may fluctuate

It's not the only case of cost fluctuation.

In the first presentation June 15, Green estimated the construction costs at $3.6 million, and said an additional $900,000 would be required for furnishings, bringing the total to $4.5 million.

That figure dropped to $4.3 million this past Tuesday, as Don High of Jamail & Smith Construction revised the furnishings estimate.

But that combined cost estimate didn't include the $320,000 in architectural and engineering fees.

Now the total is up to $4.62 million; add the farmers market figure and the overall project site estimate bumps up to $4.8 million.

Throw in the $2 million from the original building purchase for good measure and suddenly the city is spending nearly $7 million to renovate a 40-year-old building.

That's the thought process brought forth in discussion during Tuesday's workshop.

Councilman Kenny Wells, like many of the council members who were elected largely by a fiscally conservative voter base, is concerned that other overlooked expenses will cause the cost to balloon even further. He likes the project, just not the cost.

Councilman Larry Cole, who thinks the city should cut its losses and abandon the project, said there are a host of reasonable additions to the facility that aren't included in the current costs that are eventually going to drive the cost up.

Don High, who presented Jamail & Smith Construction's estimates, said, "There is no doubt the project can be brought in by the costs outlined, if not less."

But even High said there is potential for an increase when they start taking out walls and ceilings due to asbestos abatement.

"Until the actual abatement is defined, it can't be determined," High told the council Tuesday. "Without a defined scope, the costs are going to change."

Other projects with Jamail & Smith

City Manager Connie Green said Thursday that the city previously contracted Jamail & Smith to build the Utility Collections building, which came in $200,000 under budget, and a similar project came in at budget.

If the council has any doubt remaining, Green said he can have the contractor sign an agreement not to exceed the specified construction costs.

"We do not intend to spend more than $4.3 million," Green said Thursday. "The financing will be guaranteed."

Green also added that he got a firm commitment from the commissioners court to rent out space in the building, and he has signed letters of intent from both education services, the Head Start program and the Milburn Academy to do the same.

If the project should be rejected outright, Green said his next step is clear.

"If it fails, I would probably begin a process at looking at a new city hall," Green said. "We can't just sit here and ignore the fact that we have no room to grow."

A dedicated city hall has never been built in the history of Killeen.

Drive cost down

Councilman Ernest Wilkerson said he doesn't believe the city should back out altogether and sell it. But he certainly wants the dollar figures to go down.

"I want to see $2.5 million to $3 million," he said. "My main concern is the affordability. Just like everyone else, I'd like more information. ... I don't think it would be a beneficial project with the numbers where they are right now."

Councilwoman JoAnn Purser believes there is a need for the project for local civic organizations, but also holds concerns over the costs.

But before she votes for it, she wants a dollar figure – an accurate dollar figure. Purser also said she has no problem seeing the vote put on hold for a few more weeks or months, even though City Manager Connie Green said the project timeline is key to allow the schools to get ready for their semester this time next year.

"I'm not in any hurry to get into the building because of somebody else's deadline," she said. "We're going to do it the right way, and I would like to see a true cost of the building."

Contact Justin Cox at or (254) 501-7568.

Coming Monday

Council vs. city staff: A look at issues behind the scenes and their impact on the First Baptist Church project.

Coming Tuesday

Downtown plan: How plans for the church fit into overall revitalization.

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