By Brian Biggane

Contract negotiations to build a new South Palm Beach Town Hall have come to a standstill over how much the architects will receive for project design and oversight, Town Attorney Ben Saver told the Town Council at its May meeting.

Moonlight Architecture, which was selected by the council to design and oversee construction of the long-awaited structure, is demanding 15% of the total cost of the project as its fee. With the total cost expected to be in the $3.5 million-to-$4 million range, that comes to $525,000 to $600,000.

“They’re pretty set on 15% of the total construction costs (as) a reasonable fee for their services,” Saver told the council. “It’s quite high.”

Saver said a calculator designed by the Florida Department of Management Services suggests the figure for a municipal building should be closer to 7.4%, or half the proposed rate.

Council member Elva Culbertson and Mayor Bonnie Fischer both said Moonlight may deserve increased compensation, suggesting Moonlight will be offering more than the typical architect/engineering firm.

“We’re getting a service that extends well beyond the construction,” said Culbertson, who was participating in her first council meeting since being appointed in April to fill a vacancy.

“What concerns me,” Fischer added, “is we’re doing this in SIPs (structurally insulated panels), and this architect is very familiar with SIPs. What we want in this town is something that’s very energy efficient, something to put us on the map, something green and very, very innovative.

“We’re working with people who really know what they’re talking about. At this stage, I would hate to start over again.”

When asked why contract numbers weren’t included in the process when Moonlight was selected from among four companies bidding for the contract earlier this year, Saver said Florida law demands the firm be selected before contract negotiations begin.

Saver said another problem was the details of the contract proposal he received from Moonlight. After sending a 17-page proposal, he said he received a response that ran 51 pages and used $7 million as the cost of the building. He said he had only received a proposal for a building in the $3.5 million-$4 million range two hours before the council meeting and had yet to study it in full.

“For a $3.5 million building, their proposal would be for conceptual design alone,” he said. When the council picked Moonlight, both sides agreed the town would save money because the firm would act as the owner’s rep in dealing with the construction firms hired to build the structure.

Saver said that proposal would cost $450 per square foot for a 7,778-square-foot building, which would put Moonlight’s fee at $500,000 for both design and oversight. Town Manager Jamie Titcomb said the $4 million total cost would be within the town’s budget.

Saver said he didn’t think Moonlight, which is based in Cincinnati but has promised oversight from a partner company based in Fort Lauderdale, has ever contracted with a Florida municipality, which might be a reason the 15% proposal seemed, at least to him, to be off base.

“Can it be 14-and-a-half?” Council member Monte Berendes asked.

“You can always ask,” Saver replied. He then added about the need to bring the numbers down, “I’ve already said that to them several times, and this is still what they’ve come back with. They’re coming back with how a contract works in the private world. So again, this has not been a typical negotiation.”

The council ultimately directed Saver to go back to Moonlight with a proposal that it would receive 10% of the total cost and report back at or before its June meeting. Fischer also indicated Eric Schuermann, who is Moonlight’s South Florida representative, will be invited to attend.

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