Lawrence leaders favor accelerated timeline for multimillion-dollar field operations campus project

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

Members of the Lawrence City Commission listen to a presentation during their meeting on Tuesday, April 2, 2024.

Lawrence leaders on Tuesday signed off on about $3 million in spending for the first of two planned phases to construct the city’s new field operations campus, and also expressed their support for an accelerated project timeline that would move its completion up by nine months.

At Tuesday’s City Commission meeting, commissioners voted unanimously to authorize City Manager Craig Owens to execute a $2,989,166 supplement to the city’s engineering agreement with Dake Wells Architecture Inc. for design and construction phase services for the Municipal Services and Operations Campus.

As the Journal-World has reported, the large public works complex slated to be built at VenturePark in eastern Lawrence on the site of the former Farmland Industries fertilizer plant will bring together various city divisions, including streets, water, sewer, inspections and traffic. It’ll 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.

All five commissioners voiced support for the project as a whole, and Commissioner Amber Sellers said the project was especially urgent. She cited insufficiencies with current MSO facilities — like a lack of space, safety concerns for workers due to deferred maintenance issues and some buildings’ locations in areas subject to flooding — that city staff had also mentioned when explaining the need for the new campus, both on Tuesday and in past presentations.

“It’s not even behind the eight ball — we’re playing Russian roulette right now, and we’ve been playing it for a very long time,” Sellers said. “And that scares me a bit, and the fact that we’ve put so much on the backs of our community with this project. If we have the opportunity to accelerate it and get some cost efficiencies done with it … we’re getting there, and I hope our community understands it.”

The $3 million in spending approved Tuesday night only covers the cost of construction documents and administration for the first phase of the project. The construction documents are the drawings and specifications required to prepare final bids and build a project.

The overall cost of the project, meanwhile, is estimated to reach $130 million. As the Journal-World has reported, it’s one of several multimillion-dollar projects that have contributed to significant increases in city utility bills in recent years.

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.

Commissioner Brad Finkeldei said Tuesday it was important to remember the projected spending for the campus isn’t a surprise — it’s been included in city capital improvement plans for many years.

“I think it is important for the public to understand we’ve been planning for this for a while; it’s been in our CIP for a while,” Finkeldei said. “And it’s a big dollar amount, but we’ve been working toward this since 2017 and beyond getting ready for this. … This is not like all of the sudden we’re spending ($130 million more) that we hadn’t been planning for.”

The project was initially slated to be built in four phases but has since been cut down to just two, consolidating the solid waste facility and central maintenance garage into a single building and reducing construction time overall by two years.

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.

That change allows for the accelerated timeline commissioners expressed support for Tuesday, which would push up construction for the project’s second phase by another nine months and result in a 2027 completion date. Finkeldei said he also liked that option because of another benefit — it would save an additional $3 million.

Cost estimates for the project have fluctuated over the years. This time last year, for example, the city was estimating the project would cost $135 million, and projected cost ranges shared back in 2020 varied from one phase to another and collectively could have peaked at anywhere between $95 million and $115 million.

The Journal-World reported at the time that the city’s recommended five-year capital improvement plan included just under $29 million for the facility. A spokesperson with the MSO division told the Journal-World Tuesday that figure wasn’t an overall cost estimate but rather a reflection of funding that was available for the project at the time.


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