10/16/12 — Museum exhibits priced in the millions

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Museum exhibits priced in the millions

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on October 16, 2012 1:46 PM

The Air Force Museum Citizen Committee Monday learned what could be the final price tag attached to the city's proposed museum as a consultant briefed members on exhibit costs -- the final portion of the Verner Johnson's plans for the building the city purchased last summer.

Dan Murphy of PRD Group, a subcontractor of Verner Johnson, spoke via teleconference with committee members about the makeup and associated costs of filling the museum with exhibit cases and amenities.

The floor plan Murphy offered closely resembled the one he presented to the committee the first week of June, ahead of the committee's comments on it and a week before another subcontractor released her month-long community survey online and in print.

In fact, the most vivid differences between that draft and what Murphy presented Monday were the location of a second floor mini-theater and the inclusion of exterior memorials, including a fountain near the Spence and Ash street intersection.

Murphy commended the city's $500,000 purchase of the building last summer and also expressed his appreciation that the city hadn't set a budget limit, instead opting to allow the consultant team to develop the museum that would best fit the building. He received lackluster response to his narratives in advance of the portion of his presentation dealing with finances.

He and Lou Siriani, principal of Verner Johnson, were hoping for responses to sketched renderings in the packet that showed visitors experiencing the museum's amenities so that they could be finished in time for them to be placed on display for public viewing.

Siriani stressed that he needed a response soon so he could finish, although he said the renderings were 90 percent complete.

Assistant City Manager Tasha Logan later arranged for the committee to meet again Oct. 25 to consider the lightly drawn renderings, which were difficult to see.

Murphy presented a budget he said was "by no means final," that drew silence from most of the committee. It showed a planning budget for exhibits that amounted to just about $3.5 million.

The only question posed from the committee while Murphy and Siriani were on the conference call came from Al Peterson, who asked how an 850-square-foot temporary exhibit gallery could cost $85,000 to construct, especially with no permanent fixtures.

Murphy explained there would be mobile panels and cases to allow for the space to be used as exhibits came in, although he and Siriani both said there was room for alterations on that particular aspect of the plan.

Murphy also said the budget for the museum's media event, perhaps a historical film, could be "malleable," as the $75,000 shown would be for a well-produced attraction while Siriani said the price for a flight simulator, listed at $75,000, could be as much as $100,000.

Murphy, not the committee, was the one to first volunteer that the budget might be too much.

"If this budget is beyond the scope of achievability, now is a good time to tell us," he said.

After another moment of silence, Chairman Jimmie Edmundson spoke next.

"My thought is we probably need to talk among ourselves about the budget," he said.

He appeared to be right, because after the consultants were no longer listening in, the committee began to discuss the numbers presented.

"I think the plan, for me, it's OK," Edmundson began. "I don't have a clue about the budget. The only thing I know is to take it at face value."

Edmundson reiterated those sentiments at the Goldsboro City Council work session later, noting that the committee hired Verner Johnson to perform the consultant work.

"You don't know, on the front end, what this is going to be," he explained, noting that the feasibility of the project was the initial purpose of his committee and hiring Verner Johnson. "That's the reason we hired them."

Edmundson then said he didn't think the city should borrow money to install the museum, which, according to most recent estimates, would cost $6 million without counting the annual operating budget shortfall of $414,179.

Also taken into account would need to be the costs for asbestos abatement in the building, which is estimated to cost about $250,000, according to estimates received by the Inspections Department. That total, along with repairing and replacing the roof ($95,000) and repairing joints on the building's facia ($55,000), plus the cost for preparing the bid for the roof would push the price of fixing the building to $405,500.

Estimates also presented by the asbestos abatement company showed that demolishing the building entirely, along with required asbestos abatement, would cost $310,000 and leave the city with a vacant lot at 2406 E. Ash St.

Edmundson said he hoped the committee could find a way to raise the money necessary for the renovations, citing plans with another subcontractor concerned with fundraising counsel to approach corporations and citizens to gauge their interest in supporting the project financially or in kind.

Still, Edmundson said the projected $400,000 annual budget deficit was unacceptable and characterized the community as supporting the project, pointing out that 80 percent of those surveyed said they would visit the museum if it was built.

In fact, the evaluation showed that 82.3 percent of those surveyed were aware of the city's plans to build an Air Force museum, while 71.3 percent said they would visit the museum if it were built.

More than half (51.5 percent) of those surveyed reflected positively on the city's plans, with 27.1 percent reflecting negatively and 21.4 percent indifferent to the plans.

Verner Johnson's final presentation to the City Council is scheduled for Nov. 19.