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Carrboro Town Council and BOCC discuss 203 Project's budget

“This thing has just ballooned,” Commissioner Earl McKee said at the BOCC meeting.


Carrboro town council member Randee Haven-O'Donnell speaks at the swearing in of Mayor Damon Seils on Dec. 7, 2021 at the Carrboro Town Hall. 

The Carrboro Town Council and the Orange County Board of County Commissioners discussed budget updates to The 203 Project during respective meetings Tuesday night. 

The initiative aims to provide opportunities for education, art and togetherness in the community, according to the Town of Carrboro's website. 

To accomplish this goal, the project plans to construct a new library branch and permanent facilities for the Orange County Skills Development Center, which provides employment and training services.

Since being approved in March 2020, the project has seen multiple budget increases due to pandemic-related inflation, labor shortages and supply chain disruption, according to both meeting agendas.

Chad Webb, vice president of the western division of Barnhill Contracting Company, said supply chain issues have had the worst impact on construction prices.

"The main contributing factor ... has really been driven based on the supply chain issues," he said at the Carrboro Town Council Meeting.

Over two years, the projected budget has grown from approximately $25 million to $41 million.

The price of steel and concrete accounted for $3 million of the increase. During the Carrboro Town Council meeting, Webb said the expected cost of steel has spiked by 127 percent since the spring of 2020. 

Steve Arndt, director of asset management services for Orange County, said at the BOCC meeting that labor shortages have also driven up hourly construction earnings by 5.8 percent.

At the BOCC meeting, Commissioner Earl McKee said that while some residents rightfully want a south branch of an Orange County library, the project has started to get out of hand.

“This thing has just ballooned,” McKee said at the BOCC meeting. “I’m not saying there’s a fault, but it has just completely ballooned from where we were talking about it originally.” 

The Town of Carrboro is expected to contribute almost $8 million more than predicted in March 2021. Orange County is set to invest the remaining $22.2 million, according to data from the BOCC meeting agenda. 

During a presentation at the Carrboro Town Council meeting, Carrboro Finance Director Arche McAdoo said that for the Town of Carrboro, a majority of the project would be funded by new loans, which would triple the town’s current debt.

“Basically what we’re looking at is going from a half-million dollars of debt to $1.5 million over the next five years,” McAdoo said. 

Several cost reduction measures were discussed at both of the meetings, including rebidding contracts, a type of soft budget proposal, with construction companies. 

However, Webb said he doesn’t believe contract prices will come down in the near future, especially due to ongoing global conflicts.  

“(Contractors are) probably gonna put a premium price because they know that there is a workforce shortage and it’s coming quickly at us,” he said. 

Arndt said building the skills center and the library without furnishing them — a practice known as shelling — could reduce costs significantly.

“There wouldn’t be any carpet, there wouldn’t be any light fixtures, it would be just a big open space,” he said at the BOCC meeting. “We would capture the space, and then we would have to come back at some point in the future and finish it out.”

Barnhill Contracting Company, which manages the construction of The 203 Project, is reviewing the numbers and expects to have a final budget by March 7.

“We have come a long way and we’ve got to figure out some way to get to the finish line,” said Commissioner Sally Greene. 

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