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City of Casper buildings need ~$33M in repairs; costs will balloon to ~$93M in five years without attention

Fire Station No. 1 is among the city's facilities in need of some attention, a recent citywide assessment of City of Casper buildings found. (File, Oil City)

CASPER, Wyo. — City of Casper–owned buildings currently need over $33 million in repairs and if investment is not made toward that end, the cost could balloon to nearly $93 million by 2027, a report conducted by Alpha Facilities Solutions estimates.

However, because Alpha’s assessments did not include in-depth analysis of things like plumbing, electrical or HVAC systems, City Council members questioned their accuracy.

While the scope of the work under Alpha’s contract never tasked the consultant with conducting invasive inspection techniques, Councilmember Bruce Knell expressed some frustration Tuesday that the assessments did not include such work.

Without looking at the actual condition of things like pipes and electrical systems that are concealed in the bones of buildings, Knell said uncertainty remains about the extent of repair work that really needs to get done. With the report basing some of its conclusions on assumptions based on aspects like the age of buildings, the costs it indicates may inflate what the city really needs to spend, Knell said.

Current high-priority needs identified in Alpha’s citywide facilities condition assessment total $22,378,008. If left unaddressed, the cost to address those high-priority needs will increase to over $47 million by 2027, a memo from City of Casper staff regarding the results of Alpha’s report stated.

While the report indicated Casper may be facing some significant costs in coming years to ensure its facilities remain in good condition, City Manager Carter Napier said Tuesday he thinks it was a wise decision for the City Council to approve of the contract with Alpha to conduct the assessments as the information will help staff prepare capital budget plans.

The information will also be useful when the City Council is asked to consider acquiring or building new facilities, Councilmember Amber Pollock said, adding that she thinks long-term maintenance costs of the city’s overall inventory should be kept in mind when such questions come up.

“If we are responsible for maintenance, maintenance is not nothing,” Pollock said.

The facilities assessment looked at 127 city-owned buildings and provided greater detail in full narrative reports for 33 of the city’s primary facilities. The city contracted Alpha to conduct the assessments in November 2021 to assist in capital budget planning, and the group provided a 20-year capital renewal schedule that identified improvements that may be needed, priorities and estimated costs.

The primary building system needs the report identified for the next five years include the following, according to the staff memo:

  • Roofing
  • Domestic water distribution
  • Sanitary waste
  • Fire sprinkler systems
  • Lighting branch wiring and fixtures
  • Interior finishes
  • HVAC distribution systems
  • Electrical service and distribution
  • Vehicular pavements

While the Alpha staff visited Casper in January 2022 to conduct on-site evaluations, the assessments did not include in-depth analysis of things like plumbing, electrical or HVAC systems that require invasive inspection techniques. The assessments instead considered the age of buildings, visual checks of conditions and the maintenance history of the building.

Councilmember Steve Cathey also questioned some of the assumptions built into the report, asking why it seemed to indicate a shorter repair and replacement cycle for some of the materials in commercial buildings than he would expect in residential structures.

A member of the Alpha team said the consultants based some of their assumptions on the Building Owners and Managers Association’s expected useful life standards. The report is designed more to give the city a sense of when and where it should be conducting more in-depth testing of conditions, and the consultant acknowledged that the actual lifespan of building systems might be greater than the BOMA standards.

The report scored buildings using a Facility Condition Index to help the city gauge their condition and prioritize investment in improvements. Lower scores on the index indicate better condition, while higher scores indicate a greater need for attention. The scores are arrived at by dividing the total cost to replace systems that are beyond average service life by the current replacement value of the building.

The report states the scores can be useful for:

  • Comparing the condition of different facilities
  • Keeping track of possible deterioration
  • Prioritizing which capital improvement projects most need investment
  • Deciding whether it makes more sense to repair or replace a facility

Scores of 20 and under are considered the desired range, while scores over 50 indicate the city may need to start making decisions about whether renovations or replacement is needed. However, the report notes that there is not a recognized standard for what is considered an “acceptable or unacceptable” Facility Condition Index score.

When the score reaches 50 or more, it indicates renovation costs could exceed 50% of what it would cost to replace the facility. This is an important line because it could trigger requirements under building codes or civil rights statutes that could lead to additional costs beyond the repair of existing building systems, the report states.

“Although it is not possible to predict what the additional costs will be until project requirements are identified and cost estimates are prepared, it has been our experience that additional cost can be expected to range from 5% to 20% depending upon the age of the facility,” Alpha said in the report.

The average score for the 33 primary buildings the report looked at was 14, which indicates most of the city’s primary buildings are in fair condition. The average score for the 33 primary buildings is expected to rise to 37 by 2027. While no facility received a score over 50, six facilities need some significant investment over the next five years or their score will rise above that mark:

  • Marion Kreiner Pool
  • Metro Animal Shelter
  • Paradise Valley Pool
  • Casper Service Center
  • Fire Station #1
  • Nicolaysen Art Museum

In addition to narrative reports and asset inventories for the 33 primary City of Casper buildings, Alpha provided the city with data from its findings about 127 buildings on an Asset Performance Planning Software system to help with planning efforts.

The city’s initial plan is to budget for 10% of the repair cost estimates Alpha provided to begin conducting the more in-depth assessment of concealed building systems and complete repairs that are actually deemed necessary, Parks, Recreation and Public Facilities Director Zulima Lopez told the council.

That capital budgeting will wait until fiscal year 2024, Napier recommended. Fiscal year 2023 starts July 1 and staff have already prepared and presented a proposed budget the City Council is prepared to adopt.

When it comes time to budget for the repairs, the city may lean on some “one cent,” also known as “fifth penny,” optional sales tax dollars if voters renew one cent this fall. The city anticipates $64.5 million in one cent revenue over four years if voters choose to renew the countywide local sales and use tax in November’s general election.

Over four years, the city would need around $13 million to conduct the repairs if the city’s plan to allocate 10% of Alpha’s estimated costs proves to be close to what repairs are actually needed. Napier said he hopes there will be fewer repairs that are actually needed as this could quickly eat into one cent revenues.

Knell said he thinks it may be appropriate to set up a fund dedicated to taking care of building maintenance over time. If the actual repair costs are less than the roughly $13 million the city is tentatively planning to budget over four years starting in FY 2024, leftover money could go toward costs in future years.

The city already has a Perpetual Care Fund that is designed somewhat along the lines of what Knell suggested, Napier said. What would really help the city would be if voters approve of an amendment to the Wyoming Constitution to allow local governments to invest money in stocks and equities, Napier said.

Voters will be asked to consider such an amendment on the ballot this fall. The state itself is already able to invest in equities, and if Casper were able to do so, Napier said it would be a big benefit to setting up funds to deal with things like long-term infrastructure maintenance.