Questions raised over £1m rise in cost of £6.7m Crown Buildings refurb
The refurbishment of the council’s Crown Buildings office block has seen costs increase by around £1m as estimates for the work have been firmed up, with not all of the extra cost coming from council funds.
The question of the project’s costs was raised during the Executive Board meeting earlier this week on an item over the Council’s Capital Programme. In the report expenditure slippage is detailed, with a specific update for the Crown Buildings refurb and creation of a “Wellbeing Hub” in the building as part of the work.
The report explains,
” On 14 January 2020 Executive Board (COHE/43/19) approved the overall Office Accommodation Strategy and implementation of Phase 3 of the Office Accommodation Review as outlined in the report. The total cost of Phase 3, which includes refurbishment of Crown Buildings and the creation of a Wellbeing Hub within the building is now estimated to be £6.7m.
“The main reason for the increase has been the inclusion of external and public realm works, enhancing the external cladding and glazing, adding PV cells to generate electricity and upgrading the incoming services. Additional funding has been identified including £150k transferred form the Property Asset Improvements allocation, contributions from the R&M and Asbestos Removal budgets and Salix.”
Speaking at this week’s meeting, Cllr Marc Jones said: “There was an original report to the Executive Board in January 2020 into the Well Being Hub plan for Crown Buildings. I believe it was for a more modest proposal in terms of funding, it was a confidential report though.
“If the hub concept is fundamentally different than that described in the Executive Board report in January, has that change been discussed by councillors, executive level or others, and has it by been scrutinised? Because I wasn’t aware that we were going to be paying £6.7 million for this.”
Wrexham Council’s Finance Officer told the meeting, “The further grant support we’re getting the project has been shared with members through budget monitoring. I’d have to go back through the committee reports since a January 20, to see whether there has been any further discussion on it. Obviously, from a scrutiny perspective, it’s it’s up to scrutiny to select that and put that as a project to be considered.”
Wrexham Council’s Chief Economic Development Officer told Cllr Jones he was happy to explain further detail to him, reiterating the notes in the report itself about the extra costs for cladding, glazing and PV.
He added: “The scheme that was approved in January has increased by about £1 million pounds since that time. The detail work has now been completed on the design and build project, so the estimates in January were just that.
“Now that we have the detailed information, and the cost for the improved cladding for the building and the glazing, largely trying to improve the carbon footprint of the building going forward, also trying to remove all of the asbestos, which was uncovered with the detailed investigations of the building, which has cost about £300,000.
“We have now added PV cells to the building to improve our ability to generate electricity and reduce operating costs. That’s coming from Salix funding, so not all of the money is going to be costed to the council, some of it will come back with grant monies as well.
“A report has been prepared, which is going to go through Lead Members, and we can share that information with Members going forward. The detail at the moment was reserved because we were in the tender process and permission is now readily available.”
After the meeting Cllr Jones said: “The development of a modern Well-being Hub is one we support as part of delivering better services for community health in the borough. My concerns, and the reason I raised questions about the costs being outlined in the new capital budget, was about the rising costs since January 2020’s confidential report – it’s now up to £6.7 million.”
“That’s an extra million pounds at a time when we have real challenges in delivering key services, including those to the disabled. The responses I’ve had today suggest the hub is ‘fundamentally different to what was reported in January’ so I want to make sure councillors have a chance to scrutinise and understand why the costs have risen. Mention has been made of removing asbestos, better cladding and insulation as well as a more energy-efficient building.”
“I want to discuss this further with officers before making further comment but I want to make sure this valuable project is on budget given the financial challenges the council faces.”
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