Armory demolition, reconstruction process revealed

Published 5:57 pm Friday, July 14, 2023

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The Franklin City Council received an overview Monday, July 10, of the Armory demolition and reconstruction process, gaining a better understanding of how it will work and the timetable for its completion.

Providing the overview was Jamie Weist, senior professional engineer with Kimley-Horn, an organization that provides planning and design consultation.

Franklin City Manager Amanda C. Jarratt briefly summarized what led up to the current situation with the Armory, located at 900 Armory Drive.

“As you all know, we were ready to go on the Armory; we’d actually signed the demolition contract and then found out that we were receiving this wonderful gift from the federal government in the amount of ($2.5) million,” she said. “And so that caused us to have to put everything on hold; ($2.5) million is certainly a gift that we want to make sure that we obtain for the city.”

The $2.5 million comes from a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Community Project Funding grant. 

Weist explained that the amount was part of a larger sum of $2.9 billion that was approved by Congress to appropriate. The similarity in numerals led to a miscommunication that Franklin would be receiving $2.9 million, but Weist confirmed the amount available to the city is $2.5 million.

Weist opened his presentation by noting that he expects to be back regularly before the council, giving it updates as the city progresses through the Armory demolition and reconstruction process.

“But I wanted to just start off by giving you kind of an update of where we are right now,” he said. “As you know, early March, you all were awarded $2.5 million from the Consolidated Appropriations Act, and that money is being distributed through HUD, the Housing and Urban Development department of the federal government.

“So they’re the ones who get the money, get the funds from Congress, and then they distribute it to all of the different people who are going to be using it, which are primarily municipalities and other agencies of the commonwealth and different states,” he added.

He said that the $2.5 million for Franklin is earmarked for the demolition of the existing Armory, the preparation of the site, the design of a new community center and the construction of the new community center at the current Armory location.

“The $2.5 million probably won’t be enough do everything, but it will cover quite a bit, and so it’s a great find that you were able to get this for this project, because it’ll save you some money in the long run,” Weist said. 

He said that Kimley-Horn has been brought on board to help the city manage the grant up front, make sure that all the paperwork is processed properly before executing the grant agreement and then, during the process, making sure that the updates are being done and the project is closed out in accordance with HUD guidelines.

“And so there’s a couple things right up front that you need to know,” he said. “First off is whenever you get federal money, you have to do an environmental review of every project. You can’t do any work, any hard work is what they call it — like demolition, construction, anything like that — before the environmental review is complete. Otherwise, you could lose the money, and this has happened to several municipalities in Virginia.”

However, he noted that funding can be utilized up front for “soft costs.”

“You can bring on your architect engineer to start the design work,” he said. “You can use some of those funds to pay for the environmental review document that needs to be completed and things of that nature. So there are soft costs that are allowed, but any hard construction costs are not allowed to be expended. I wanted to point that out initially before we got into the schedule just so you know that we’re watching over that to make sure we don’t overstep our bounds on anything.

Weist next addressed some action items for the city related to the overall process.

“Some of the action items that you have to complete prior to executing the grant is we have to put together a detailed project narrative, which is basically everything that you plan to do on the project, whether you use this funding for all of it, part of it or a small piece of it,” he said. “You have to describe the entire project in great detail to HUD on what you plan to do.”

Moments later, he added, “Along with that is a detailed project budget, and it has to be a line-item budget. Federal guidelines, they give you a template and they give you examples and things to use when you’re putting together that budget so that you can make sure that you provide everything that they need. 

“And so those are the two documents that we’ll be assisting your staff in pulling together to make sure that it encompasses the entire project,” he said, referencing the project narrative and budget.

Additionally, he said, “The other part of the submittal to HUD before you can sign and execute the grant agreement is there are about four or five federal forms that have to be filled out, and we’ll be working with your city attorney, with your city manager and your finance department in making sure those forms are filled out.”

When he addressed the project schedule, he said the hope is to finish the project narrative and budget by early August.

Weist also provided some details on what the environmental review addresses. It requires answers to questions like, “Is there any historical significance to the structure that you’re going to be demolishing? Are there any archeological or cultural-type items?”

“And so we have people on our team that specialize in those specific areas that will have to go through and do various studies over the next few months to check those boxes and make sure that we identify or say there is nothing before we can submit it to HUD,” he said. “And so the environmental review document is a key — without that you really can’t do anything. It is grant reimbursable, by the way. And then once those items above are completed, we can proceed with the project and move forward.”

Weist said Kimley-Horn and the city will finish its portion of the environmental review by the end of September, and then it will be submitted to HUD.

“Typically it takes them about 90 days — sometimes a little less, sometimes a little more,” he said of HUD. “So we’re anticipating if we submit to them by the end of September, hopefully by the end of December we get an approval on the environmental document. That’s really when we can head to the races.

“Meanwhile, we’re not going to wait to hire the architect engineer,” he continued. “The city has already put (a request for proposal) out. I think you’ve received six different proposals for the design of the new community center.”

He said Kimley-Horn will be working with city staff to evaluate and select an architect engineer to start working on the design of the new community center.

“That’s an eligible reimbursable cost that we can go ahead and get moving so that we’re not waiting for that once the environmental review is completed,” he said.

Then he addressed the design phase.

“We anticipate that design should be completed somewhere in the March-or-April-of-2024 time frame,” he said. “If they start in September-October time frame, it’s usually about a six-month process for design, six to eight months.

“And so if we can get the bidding and construction beginning in May of 2024, we think it’s at least a one-year project to construct, maybe more, so you’re looking at probably April 2025 before the project is completed and ready,” he said.

He noted that this is simply a basic, upfront schedule.

“I’ll be updating you on this periodically if things change,” he said. 

He then added a caveat to the schedule.

“If for some reason — and we don’t anticipate this — (but) if for some reason the historic eligibility of the Armory changes, right now it’s not a contributing structure, but if it does change, if HUD looks at it and says, ‘Uh, we think it is,’ that typically will add about six months to the whole project schedule,” he said. “We don’t anticipate that. We’ve already had one discussion with HUD’s environmental review person, we’ve talked through this, but again, when you submit it to the federal government and it goes through all the different agencies for review, you just can’t anticipate everything. But we’ll be keeping an eye on that.

Weist also noted that he is aware the city already received bids to demolish the Armory, but he reiterated that actual demolition will have to wait.

“You cannot do that until the environmental review document is done,” he said. “If you do, you’ll be voiding the funding, so the earliest you’d be able to demolish that would be once the environmental review document is approved, which could be January of 2024. … At that point it might be best just to wait and do it as part of the project when you bid the entire project versus demolishing it up front and then having another contractor come in three or four months later and start building and say, ‘Well, I didn’t know this was going to be like this, or, ‘I thought he was going to do that, or they were going to this.’ It just avoids any type of conflict and potential costs in the long run. So we’ll be keeping an eye on that.”