Lee’s Summit’s plan for a $2.9 million in cultural arts projects has hit another glitch. Funding appears to be short for renovating a historic downtown building for a museum.
The plan was to restore a former 1939 U.S. Post Office, built by the WPA, and lease the building to the Lee’s Summit Historical Society. The building for years had served as City Hall, then was leased to ReDiscover after moving city offices.
The city’s plan is to lease the renovated building to the Lee’s Summit Historical Society, and financial support for buying display cases to hold artifacts the society already possesses was to be part of the budget. City money wasn’t to be used for acquisitions of historical items.
Work included restoring the lobby of the building to its 1930s look, with the tellers window and postmaster’s office, and existing murals cleaned and restored.
The mail room was to be taken back to open space then filled with display cases, plus technology for various exhibits.
Construction bids received this month are so high that completing basic work for renovating the building could eat away all the money, leaving the historical society without support for exhibiting its large collection. Many of those artifacts are in storage.
Deputy City Manager Brian Scott says bids were “considerably higher” than anticipated. They range from $627,000 to $692,114. The city rejected the bids. Officials now are considering ways to cut back.
The entire budget was $660,000, with only $450,000 slated for the renovation. The remainder was for architects and engineering, furniture, fixtures and equipment to set up the museum space.
“We’re disappointed, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens,” said Kathy Smith, president of the Lee’s Summit Historical Society.
Scott said that the city is considering a couple of options. One idea is for do some demolition first and then rebid the project.
Scott said he believes the bids were extra high so contractors could cover their risks, because of unknown conditions behind walls.
Another reason bids were higher than expected, he said, is that with the economy recovering, contractors are finding more work. The city has been taking advantage of the down economy to get good bids on projects in recent years, he said.
To cut costs, the city might also reduce the scope of work.
One wall was to have a faux front of the home of Lee’s Summit’s founder William B. Howard. That could be replaced with a photographic mural at less cost. The bids also called for removing old emergency generators, but the city might be able to get a company that recycles the units to remover them in exchange for taking the scrap, Scott said.
The city council was scheduled to talk about the issue March 20, but the meeting fell after The Journal’s deadline.
Another issue has risen with the building as well. When the projects budget was set, the city didn’t include roof repairs or re-pointing the brick exterior.
In later assessments of the property’s conditions, the city has gotten advice from a roofer and two masonry contractors. They said replacing mortar between bricks would be needed in the near future at a cost of $60,000 to $70,000. The roof needs about $84,000 in work, Scott’s memo said. That’s all work in addition to bids already taken for restoration.
In the plan already accepted by the council, the city would pay for maintenance items such as the roof and brick exterior (as the landlord) while the historical society would pay for operating costs such as utilities or any staff to keep it open.
The city might have to ask the historical society to fund more of its own display cases and furnishings. Scott said that would probably be a disappointment to the community, which was promised a turn-key project.
A different track would be to reuse more of the building as is.
“Instead of blowing it all out, keep some of the (existing) offices for display rooms,” Scott said.
Scott said he thinks it’s unlikely the city council would approve adding more money to the project’s budget.
“Other than that, we’re still kind of scratching our heads as to what we can do,” Scott said.