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Saturday January 22nd

Carrboro Town Council votes to move forward with 203 Project despite increase in cost

<p>The Carrboro Town Council met on Tuesday to discuss The 203 Project.</p>
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The Carrboro Town Council met on Tuesday to discuss The 203 Project.

The Carrboro Town Council unanimously voted at its virtual meeting Tuesday to move forward with The 203 Project, a long-running development effort, despite an increase in the project's budget.

The 203 Project building — at 203 S. Greensboro St. — will eventually become home to WCOM Radio, the Orange County Skills Development Center and Orange County Southern Branch Library. The construction is a collaborative effort between the Town and Orange County and aims to enhance the quality of life in Carrboro.

The building is anticipated to open to the public in 2023.

The project’s budget has increased since its original estimate in June. Initially, the project was projected to cost more than $27.6 million, but the new estimate announced Tuesday puts the cost of opening and occupying the building at more than $30 million.

The original budget did not include costs of furniture, fixtures and equipment (FF&E) costs, IT costs or utility relocation.

Town Planning Director Trish McGuire said while there has been an increase in price, it is not solely the product of cost overruns. Around $1.7 million is being held for contingencies and cost escalation, meant to protect against price volatility in materials and other unexpected expenses during construction.

McGuire also said there has been a $900,000 cost overrun in the construction budget, which accounts for $26 million of the $30 million needed.

Ben Schmadeke, the Town’s capital projects manager, said the project’s FF&E cost, which is currently $1.35 million, will likely decrease.

“We priced these conservatively,” Schmadeke said. “I think that number would only go down.”

Despite this, some council members expressed concern about the overall price.

“At a time when we’re talking affordable housing with every other breath, I’m worried about the impact of taxes on our existing properties,” Town Council member Jacquelyn Gist said. “This is concerning.”

But council member Susan Romaine said despite the increased budget, the council should not lose sight of the project’s overall value.

“We are the largest town in North Carolina, I believe, without a fully functioning library,” Romaine said. “Think about all that will come out of this, whether it's promoting literacy or promoting economic development as people come and spend money.”

The 203 Project also plans to include solar panels on the building. 

“Solar is part of this project, and not something to be thought of as a capital improvement,” council member Sammy Slade said. “This project took 20-some years — we don’t want solar to be another 30 years.”

This priority is related to the Town’s Community Climate Action Plan, which aims for a 50 percent reduction in per capita greenhouse gas emissions by 2025.

“We need to do solar; we need to do it now,” council member Randee Haven-O'Donnell said. “I think it is really important that we move forward to try and get the solar to be constructed with The 203 Project from the beginning.”

The council unanimously voted to accept the report, current costs and construction timeline. It also supported the staff’s efforts to obtain grant money to help pay for the building’s solar panels.

McGuire said should the process go smoothly, she expects groundbreaking to begin this spring. But she cautioned that delays in the process are likely to occur.

“We haven’t consulted the crystal ball lately,” McGuire said. “Everyone has been hearing about the supply chain’s impacts on all kinds of deliveries.”


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