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Officials at odds over library 'accessory'

Tony LaRussa
| Thursday, March 8, 2007

Penn Hills officials are considering whether to nix the proposed amphitheater from the library being built along Aster Road to make up for costly overruns when the site was being prepared during the early stages of the project.

Councilwoman Sara Kuhn said she had "serious concerns" about paying for the library because an additional $400,000 was needed to stabilize the ground for construction shortly after excavation work began in early April to clear the heavily wooded land at corner of Saltsburg and Stotler roads.

In jeopardy is an outdoor amphitheater with a covered stage and seating for 200 to 300 people. A walkway connecting the library to nearby Linton Middle School is planned, too. The amphitheater and walkway are estimated to cost about $140,000.

"The library building is what we are obligated to," Kuhn said. "I cannot, in good conscience, vote for an accessory, no matter what it might be."

Howard Davidson, the municipality's planning director, said the original budget for the library project contained sufficient contingency money to cover unanticipated problems costs.

"We don't need to cut money out of the budget; we have enough to cover the contracts. It's already in the capital budget," said Davidson.

Davidson advised against eliminating the amphitheater because it will be one of the few features with the potential to generate income through rentals.

Municipal manager Marla Marcinko said more than $6.28 million was budgeted for the library project. But a combination of lower bids than were originally anticipated and cost containment has resulted in a total estimated cost for completion of the work at about $6.13 million.

Marcinko said the actual cost for soil stabilization work during excavation was about $257,000, not $400,000.

Kuhn was incensed when she learned that even if council decided to axe the amphitheater project, the municipality would likely only get back a portion of the money because the contractor has been paid $73,000.

"How on earth did that happen when for months we've been discussing whether to take the amphitheater in or out?" Kuhn said.

Marcinko said while some work may have been done on the site, the bulk of the $73,000 was spent on materials.

"It is very, very common that as soon as contracts are awarded -- particularly on large projects where there are substantial lead times involved -- contractors will order materials as soon as possible," Marcinko said.

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