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F.C. Council OK’s City Hall Cost Overrun By 4-1-2 Vote

FALLS CHURCH City Manager Wyatt Shields (right) took personal responsibility for the problems that led to the $1,207 million in change orders on the City Hall renovation project tonight before the City Council voted 4-1-2 to OK the expenditure.

In a vote with the narrowest of possible margin for approval, the Falls Church City Council Monday night scraped together a four “yes” vote majority to approve the expenditure of an additional $1.207 million to finally complete by mid-May what’s wound up being a $20.3 million project over the last decade for the renovation and expansion of City Hall. This was the second such close vote this month, coming after the library renovation project was OK’d two weeks ago by a similar margin.

Council member Letty Hardi voted “no” and her colleagues Ross Litkenhous and David Snyder abstained to reduce the margin of approval to four for OKing what was essentially money already spent to finish the project, the final $1.207 million coming on an agreement between the City and Hitt Construction.     

In a bold move, City Manager Wyatt Shields told the Council just before the vote was taken Monday that he accepts personal responsibility for the problems that led to the need for the City to cough up the additional $1,207 million, confessing that as the person overseeing the project manager on the effort, he was ultimately responsible.   

“The plans were not as fully vetted in advance as they should have been,” he said, leading to a “long list of change orders on the need for IT networking capability, low voltage security, the sally port in the garage and masonry mold in the 70-year-old original building. Hitt “absorbed costs as well,” Shields said. While the official cost of the project grew by the $1,207 million to $14,557,800, when the 10 years of preparation, staff time, rent for the temporary location while the renovation work was being done and moving and storage costs were added in, the price tag came to $20.3 million, Shields reported.     

“We need to know the lessons learned from this,” Snyder said, and “be sure we have the proper oversight going forward.” Mayor David Tarter added, “We have to be very smart with our money. I hate to see this, but the past is the past.”     

The $1.207 million will come from the surplus in the current fiscal year budget which totaled $3.178 million, leaving $1,971,000 that the Council voted to return to the City’s capital reserve fund.   

In the context of this issue, the Council voted unanimously to create an oversight committee to watch the progress of the Mary Riley Styles Library renovation and expansion, which is set to commence in two weeks. 

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