Lawrence leaders to consider $3 million agreement for design and construction of 1st phase of field operations campus project

photo by: Rochelle Valverde/Journal-World

Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., is pictured on Jan. 31, 2023.

This week, Lawrence leaders could sign off on a nearly $3 million agreement covering construction documents and administration costs for the first phase of the city’s multimillion dollar field operations campus project.

At Tuesday’s Lawrence City Commission meeting, commissioners will consider authorizing City Manager Craig Owens to execute a $2,989,166 supplement to the city’s engineering agreement with Dake Wells Architecture Inc., an architecture firm with offices in Kansas City and Springfield, Missouri, for design and construction phase services for the Municipal Services and Operations Campus. According to Tuesday’s meeting agenda, some tasks included in the city’s agreement with Dake Wells are anticipated to continue until the start of August 2026.

As the Journal-World has reported, the large public works complex is slated to be built at VenturePark in eastern Lawrence on the site of the former Farmland Industries fertilizer plant at 23rd Street and O’Connell Road. The campus will bring together various city divisions, including streets, water, sewer, inspections and traffic, and will also include space for MSO administration, a fueling station and a central maintenance garage.

photo by: City of Lawrence screenshot

This updated rendering shows what the Municipal Services and Operations Campus would look like from the northwest.

The roughly $3 million in spending up for consideration this week was included in the city’s 2024 budget, according to Tuesday’s agenda. Those funds will cover the costs of construction documents, the drawings and specifications required to prepare final bids and ultimately build a project; and construction administration, the ongoing active participation of the design team in the construction of the facility.

That represents just a small fraction of the cost of the campus overall, though. As the Journal-World reported, the city was estimating the project would cost $135 million in total around this time last year. And according to a presentation included with Tuesday’s agenda, the 2023 cost estimate actually could have peaked at $145 million.

Anticipated costs for the project have fluctuated significantly over the past several years. When the Journal-World first reported on the project in 2020, the project’s price tag was just $29 million. A timeline showing changes to the estimated project cost over time included with the presentation for Tuesday’s meeting notes that the cost estimate ballooned to between $95 million and $115 million in the master planning stage of the project, which took place in 2020 and 2021. As of October 2021, the Journal-World was still reporting a project estimate of $29 million.

Later updates saw the estimated price tag increase to about $123 million in 2022 and then to the $135 million estimate shared in 2023.

While that figure hasn’t changed much in the past year, the presentation does note that the high-end estimate has decreased slightly to $133 million. That’s due in part to two significant adjustments compared to earlier versions of the project plan: a redesign of the campus and a new plan to break the project into only two phases instead of four.

photo by: City of Lawrence screenshot

This updated site plan shows where elements of the Municipal Services and Operations Campus will be located under a new plan which breaks the project into two phases instead of four.

Those changes will further consolidate MSO divisions and reduce construction time by two years, meaning the potential project timeline would only extend to early 2028 rather than through 2029. While earlier plans anticipated the campus would be approximately 75 acres in size, it’s unclear from Tuesday’s presentation how large it will be after the redesign.

The project’s first phase, which accounts for $65 million of the overall cost, will still include construction of the building housing the majority of MSO divisions and the fueling station. The second phase, accounting for a slightly larger portion of the project’s price tag at $68 million, now calls for combining the solid waste facility and central maintenance garage into a single building.

photo by: City of Lawrence screenshot

This map shows the two planned phases of the City of Lawrence’s Municipal Services and Operations Campus project, included a breakdown of the cost for construction in each phase.

According to the presentation, an accelerated second phase could potentially drop the cost even further to $130 million. Under the accelerated plan, the construction schedule for phase two would be moved up nine months and scheduled for completion in 2027 instead of 2028. It would also allow city staff to move in earlier and result in an even $65 million price tag for both phases.

Another method the city has employed in an attempt to control project costs is using a “construction manager at risk” rather than the traditional bid procedure for construction projects, where a project usually is awarded to the company that submitted the lowest bid. The CMAR method instead sees a construction manager selected based on a combination of qualifications and cost.

As part of the consent agenda at the City Commission meeting on Dec. 12, 2023, commissioners executed a construction management agreement for $125,000 plus 2.75% of the guaranteed maximum price of construction with McCownGordon, a Kansas City construction contractor, to serve as construction manager.

In other business, commissioners will:

* Hear an update on progress with the project to return Iⁿ’zhúje’waxóbe, the 28-ton red quartzite boulder sacred to the Kaw Nation, from Jay Johnson, professor of geography and atmospheric science and director of the Center for Indigenous Research, Science and Technology at the University of Kansas.

In August 2023, the prayer rock was moved from Robinson Park, where it had sat since 1929 after being taken from its original home at the confluence of the Kansas River and Shunganunga Creek in Tecumseh and fitted with a plaque honoring Lawrence’s white settlers. That was the culmination of a years-long effort to return Iⁿ’zhúje’waxóbe — which is pronounced “EE(n) ZHOO-jay wah-HO-bay” and literally means “sacred red rock” — to the Kaw Nation. It was moved to Allegawaho Heritage Memorial Park in Council Grove, which is owned by the Kaw Nation.

The Lawrence City Commission will convene at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., then immediately recess for a 30-minute closed executive session. A live stream of the meeting can be viewed via Zoom or the city’s YouTube channel.


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