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North Little Rock City Council members approved hiring an architectural firm Monday to design a new police and courts building after some members questioned its new $30 million price and whether the cost would increase again.

The 8-0 vote approved hiring Hoefer Wysocki Architects LLC of Leawood, Kan., for architectural and engineering design services for the building "not to exceed" $30 million.

The new building's original estimated cost was $20 million, to be entirely funded by revenue from a portion of a one-half percent, five-year city sales tax for capital improvements. The tax took effect Jan. 1. Mayor Joe Smith said last month that construction estimates have increased the cost to $30 million.

Smith also said last month that he would ask the council's approval to move forward with the hiring of bond counsel and underwriter for a $15 million bond issue that would cover the $10 million overrun, plus an extra $5 million for improvements at the North Little Rock Municipal Airport. He told the council Monday that he would bring an airport business plan to the next council meeting, on Dec. 26.

Smith has removed from the bond issue proposal the inclusion of building three luxury-styled cabins in Burns Park, saying last week that he was looking at other financing options. The cabins were first estimated to cost $1 million each, including extending water, sewer and electric lines to a chosen site that overlooks both the Burns Park Golf Course and the Arkansas River.

Some council members were hesitant about approving the higher cost for the police and courts building and questioned whether it was even enough.

"I'd hate for us to have come back to ask for another $10 million to $15 million," Council Member Linda Robinson said. "In my mind, it's $30 million and that's it. That's a lot of money."

Smith said that the $30 million is the architect's "best professional guess."

"I think we can do it for under $30 million," Smith said. "Worst case scenario, we could make [the building] smaller if we had to. There are lots of things we could work on if we had to. We have options out there.

"If it's $35 million, we'll have to make another plan," he said. "All this is is hiring an architect."

Council Member Charlie Hight asked that it be made clear to the architectural firm that it would have "$30 million to spend, including your fee." The contract approved includes a 7.7 percent fee to the firm, which is to be included within the $30 million cost, according to the legislation's wording.

Council Member Debi Ross asked for assurance that "this is everything" toward the total project cost.

"I need to know that before I vote," she said.

When approving an increase in August from $4 million to $5.36 million to the cost of the planned Argenta Plaza downtown, some council members said they had understood that a 15 percent architect's fee was part of the original $4 million cost stated in different pieces of legislation prior to that. Instead, the additional fee tacked on about $700,000 to the plaza's cost.

"It did get confusing on the plaza," Smith said. "Whatever we did to make that confusing, we won't do that again."

Metro on 12/11/2018

Print Headline: New North Little Rock police, courts building gets go-ahead

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