Count well the cost

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If you weren't in church on October 25, you didn't hear this announcement from Jeremy Nafziger, chair of the building committee. It's important news on the building project, so here it is:

The building committee is grateful for many things that have happened so far on this project. We are very much on schedule. The work so far has been expertly and efficiently executed. The general contractor, Jim Herr, seems to be a genius at this sort of thing, and whatever horror stories you've ever heard about subcontractors don't seem to apply in our case. CMC's project manager, Jack Rutt, is astonishingly meticulous on our behalf, and I have come to think that our engineer, Johann Zimmermann, knows everything. In addition, a number of you have volunteered your time for various tasks, with a combination of the mad skillz from some home renovation show and the hearts of various saints.


I interrupt my good news, though, to tell you that the project is costing more than estimated. Our best figuring puts it around $90,000 to $100,000 above the estimate, which is about 15 to 18 percent more than the original estimate. We are relatively confident in that number and we are doing everything we can to keep the extra costs in the range of a decent tip. Of course, we are talking about a decent tip on a tab of $550,000, and it's real money. I feel personally responsible for this happening and I am sorry. You very willingly approved a plan for less money, and I am disappointed that I need to ask for more of it.


At the same time, I do not doubt that we are getting our money's worth out of this project, that we are making choices every week to contain costs, and that this is not the result of a creeping scope of work or of silly, expensive choices.


In fact, the scope of the work has changed very little from our original intention, but what it will take to accomplish it has been better revealed as each step in the construction process has occurred. Many of these details were simply unknowable before work started, and our first estimates were, at best and of necessity, educated predictions based on the square footage in question and other general factors.


Because of the building's age and the multiple stages in which it was constructed, there have been surprises, things we did not expect to have to fix. For example, one of the walls upstairs didn't really line up with the wall downstairs that was allegedly supporting it. For a more colorful example, when we removed the two gigantic boilers downstairs (in order to replace them with a single one about a quarter of the size), there was a pipe underneath one of them. The pipe was cracked, and not just cracked: you could see into it. Perhaps an analogy is better than the details here: imagine crossing a wastewater treatment plant in a glass-bottomed boat. And when you think about what a boiler does and what was going through that pipe, it's like taking that boat tour with a captain who's a chain smoker. The upshot is, we are compelled to fix things that we didn't know were problems—and I could have gone with an exhaustive list just now, but if you can honestly say you'd turn down a legitimate opportunity to talk about open sewer pipes from a pulpit on a Sunday morning, you're a better person than I am.


Second, there is a list of choices that are consequences of the renovation itself. If you create more room in the fellowship hall, do you try to match the sketchy 20-year-old carpet, or replace it and with what? When you run new pipes that take up less room, do you tear out the old ones, and when you do, what will you do with the weird structures that were built around them? Do you replace windows when the old ones leak but sort of still work? How strongly do you feel about insulation? Do you fire-rate the altered and completely cleaned-out boiler room if the code says you don't have to? Do you figure that the beam that's holding up the kitchen will continue to do so in defiance of math, or do you replace it while you're tearing stuff up anyway? How do you handle space in the basement that only recently became empty? Basically, does it just make more sense to fix it now than later, if it's even possible to fix later?


Some of this could have been better accounted for in the original estimate. Some of them should have been fixed a long time ago but have been that way for so long, they didn't even register. What's more, many of them will be totally invisible when the project is done. I worry that if I don't list them here or in other updates, you won't realize they'd been fixed and would wonder what all the money went for. And it makes me downright queasy to be making calls on spending money that is not mine, but yours—even if I believe the work to be good work and the right thing to do.


Church council has signed off on the extra cost, to a point, and has identified almost $40,000 in reserves that can be applied to work that corrects deferred maintenance. Church accounts will still contain reserves in excess of the recommended levels for a budget of our size. When the final cost is known, the plan is to raise the remaining amount through a continuation of our capital campaign sometime next year. In the meantime, the building committee will do our best to keep that cost as low as possible while making the renovation valuable and worthwhile for our church community and the work we do here.

That was the good news/bad news thing for this morning. If you have any questions, email Jeremy.

Community Mennonite Church
70 South High Street Harrisonburg, VA