Facade grant program moving forward, despite cost setbacks


GREENFIELD — Greenfield is striving to move ahead with facade improvements to several downtown buildings, although it had to put the project out for bid a second time when initial costs estimates came back far too high. Some of the buildings included in the program have now had bids awarded, while others are still waiting.

Six buildings are included in the project, funded by a Stellar Communities grant: Greenfield Christian Church, Bradley Methodist Church, Bradley Hall Events Center, the Greenfield Chamber of Commerce building, the H.B. Thayer building and the Sonicu building.

The facade project has targeted the front of the Bradley Hall Events center, which has suffered staining because of leaky gutters.

Tom Russo | Daily Reporter

Greenfield planning director Joan Fitzwater, who is leading the Stellar Communities project locally, said bids for the work have come in much higher than anticipated, even though Greenfield has nearly $1 million to make the improvements. Fitzwater attributed the higher costs to the supply chain problems and labor shortage caused by COVID-19.

“The cost of supplies is astronomical, the cost of labor is astronomical,” she said.

Under what’s known as the Davis-Bacon Wage Act, governments must offer at least $10.95 an hour to workers on construction projects; that number is adjusted according to the prevailing wage rate for construction labor. But with a shortage of labor, Fitzwater said, the real cost of hiring people is much higher than the Davis-Bacon rate.

“The contractor, the general contractor, is having a hard time with reliable timing for their projects because of labor issues as well as the supply of materials,” she said.

Greenfield has accepted bids to make renovations to three of the buildings and is still accepting bids for the work on the other three. The city hopes to complete all the work in 2022.

Fitzwater said much of the cost is going toward maintenance preventing damage to the buildings. Taking steps like replacing the grouting between stones can be very expensive, she said.

At the Bradley Hall Events center, for example, the facade grant money will go toward replacing gutters that drip onto the sidewalk and clearing up copper staining that discolors the front of the building.

“Bradley Church, we hope to put in beautiful wood doors, rather than the aluminum doors you look at now,” Fitzwater said. “At Greenfield Christian Church, we will be restoring the stained glass windows and putting storm windows on them, which really help to protect them. Those buildings, you’re not really going to see a lot (of change), but those are those big, quiet, cornerstone assets of the community that deserve to be preserved, because they tell such a story for our heritage.”

The two renovations that will have the largest impact, Fitzwater said, are the H.B. Thayer building (home to Wooton &Hoy law firm) at 13 N. State Street; and the Sonicu building at 11 American Legion Place.

Fitzwater said the buildings were restored improperly in the 1960s, with some of their windows bricked over and inappropriate light fixtures. The facade grants will pay to restore the storefronts to resemble their original looks, with new doors and larger windows.

“The storefront windows on State Street, all those windows really help open up the block and make it seem more inviting,” Fitzwater said.

Retta Livengood, president of the Greenfield Area Chamber of Commerce, said she’s excited that the building the Chamber owns and occupies on the Courthouse Plaza is participating in the program.

“It’s cosmetics I’m sure a lot of people might not notice,” Livengood said. The facade grant will be used to repair the building’s downspouts, she said, as well as to make some renovations to its porch and hopefully give the building a new coat of paint.

Even though the changes might not be obvious, Livengood said, they’re important to preserving the building. Like others up for facade work, it is part of Greenfield’s courthouse square, which features on the National Register of Historic Places. Most of the buildings were built in the 1890s, including the Chamber’s building. Livengood said it was originally built as the office and residence of a local doctor and was used as a funeral home and the offices of Greenfield-Central School Corporation before being purchased by the Chamber.

“It’s important for us to maintain this historic building not just because of the history, but because it’s an important building downtown,” Livengood said.

Nick Tuttle, the CEO of Sonicu, said he initially received an estimate of $134,000 for the facade work on his building. After two rounds of bids, the city still hasn’t found a contractor who could do the work needed for that amount. Although it’s been difficult waiting for a bid to come in, Tuttle said, he understands that the city is doing all it can to deal with the unpredictable economy.

“They’re working hard to re-bid it and change the scope of project,” Tuttle said. ‘There’s so many moving parts to these things.”

Facade renovations are also planned for two VFW buildings and the FoxGardin Restaurant in downtown Fortville, but bids for that project have also come in higher than the town was anticipating. Fortville has $250,000 to make improvements to the three buildings.

“Unfortunately, the bids, because of the construction cost, were astronomically high,” said Fortville town planner Adam Zaklikowski, a member of the Stellar team. “We had to make some reasonable adjustments, and it’s out for a second bid now. Greenfield got some of their bids back and we’re waiting for ours in Fortville, so fingers crossed.”

The Stellar Communities Program is a multi-year investment initiative in community improvement, led by the state Office of Community and Rural Affairs and overseen by Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch. The Health and Heritage Region, which is made up of Hancock County, Greenfield, Shirley and Fortville, was selected for the program in 2018.