How Catty’s Iron Works project is getting done
With plans and ideas for the Borough of Catasauqua’s Iron Works property floating around for over a year and not a shovel of dirt turned, The Press sat down with Councilwoman Christine Weaver and Spillman Farmer Architects lead team, Eliot Nolter and Russ Pacata, to get details on the process that turns ideas into glass and steel.
“We understand that this has been a long process and there is little to show for all the decisions that have been made, but we have one shot at getting this right, so we need to make the best of it,” Weaver said.
Harvard University pioneered a game for its management courses that has been adopted in many seminars. In brief, facilitators place a pile of blocks on a team table. The teams compete to see who can assemble the blocks the fastest. The team can take as long as they want to plan — the clock starts once the plan is set. Teams with little or no planning take about 30 minutes. Teams with elaborate plans take 1 to 3 seconds.
“We don’t do elaborate plans just to get the building done quickly,” Pacata said. “We need to have the right numbers in place when we go out for funding. You can’t be short on dollars … it’s too messy.”
The process started once Spillman Farmer got the green light from borough council to proceed with plans for the new municipal building.
“We talked to people in the borough and outside the borough to see what the needs were,” Nolter said. “We took everything we had and put it into a building. Then we got comments back that asked for more.”
The first discussions were completed almost a year ago.
“We came up with concepts that we presented to the borough. We didn’t have a 3D design in mind at first, only some general ideas and rough floor plans,” Pacata said. “Then we sent a trio of concepts over to the estimator to get an idea of costs.”
In a nutshell, the costs were too high. According to borough Manager Eugene Goldfeder, the borough has a limit on what it can borrow based on tax revenues. Goldfeder must keep the top limit in mind.
“We eliminated a couple of concepts,” Nolter said. “Space for the library became too expensive because of the additional weight of all those books. We cut out the idea of retail space also.”
Spillman Farmer caused some consternation on council when aspects of the building were scaled down, and the costs came in higher than the original estimates.
“Once we get closer to the final design, we can get better estimates. A parking garage costs less on a square-foot basis than office space. The details often lead to anomalies in the pricing,” Nolter said.
“We are putting the final details on the specifications, so we can go to bid,” Pacata said. Going to bid does not mean that there are no other options to be considered.
“What happens next is that we send the specs out to contractors [who] use subcontractors for various parts of the project. The rules require that we separate certain parts of the project, so it can be bid separately,” Pacata said.
During the bid process, contractors can submit alternatives to the design parameters and scheduling.
“The basic structure of the building is going to stay the same, but contractors have a lot of experience, and if they can come up with a way to save money on the project, we want to see the options,” Nolter said.
“One of the reasons we hired a project coordinator that reports to the borough is to keep costs down and under control,” Weaver said. “They will also look at construction techniques. When we interviewed the candidates, they indicated that they could reduce costs.” The borough hired Whiting-Turner as their project coordinator.
“We expect that we can have a ground-breaking in June,” she said. “Then we can start to see some very tangible results.”
Once the construction phase starts, the borough, Whiting-Turner, the contractor and their subs will meet on a scheduled basis.
“We don’t step completely out of the process at that point,” Pacata said. “We are available for interpretation and to answer questions.”
For the borough, the process does not stop when ground is broken.
“We need to start on the process of getting the rest of the [Iron Works] site into the hands of a developer,” Weaver said.
“We want to work with one developer for the remainder of the site. The developer could sell off separate parcels to others for specific projects. It would be best for the borough if one developer controls the remainder of the site, we just don’t have the manpower to coordinate several developers,” she said.
What is the estimated completion time?
“We won’t know the specifics until we get those bids back,” she said. “Council can look them over along with [Spillman Farmer], and we can pick the best contractor that will meet our needs.” The time frame for the municipal building is the first on the agenda.
“We won’t know the status of the remainder of the site until we get a developer on board,” she said. “Now that we have an agreement with the owners of the property at 440 Front St., we can meet our projected schedule.”
The bottom line is residents can expect to see more activity at the Iron Works site, and the process is still on-going.
“We want to keep everyone alerted to the progress we make, with the borough’s website and regular reports to council,” Weaver said.