By William Kelly
Daily News Staff Writer
November 28, 2016
Nicki McDonald has a message for condo residents who have misgivings about, or are opposed to, the town’s plan to bury all utilities on the island.
The Lake Towers condominium building just completed its own conversion to underground utilities, with administrative help from the town, and its residents are happy with the process and the result, said McDonald, board president of the building at 250 Bradley Place.
“On time and under budget,” is how McDonald summed it up last week.
The work was done mid-July to mid-November, when most residents were out of town. All that remains of the project is the landscaping. More than 80 percent of the owners in the 60-unit building voted to bury their power, cable television and phone lines, primarily for aesthetic reasons. The poles were highly visible as residents drove onto the property on the north side.
“We had four poles with a bird’s nest of wires,” McDonald said. “Aesthetically, when you pull in, it looks completely different.”
Some condo residents in the South End have questioned the need for the town-wide project, the cost, and whether buried power lines will be vulnerable to flooding. Two residents have sued the town, challenging a March 15 referendum in which voters narrowly approved up to $90 million in bonds to finance the estimated 10-year project, scheduled to begin next spring.
McDonald said Lake Towers can be viewed as a microcosm for the residential buildings in the South End, which was scheduled, along with the upper North End, to be phase one of the construction next year.
“They can look to us for guidance on a project well-done,” she said Tuesday.
Town Engineer Patricia Strayer said no two residential buildings are exactly alike, so every project is going to be different. “The southern condo buildings are much larger,” she said. “There is always a fear of the unknown — how is it going to impact them.”
Lake Towers is not the only neighborhood utilities underground project. The town helped administer the burial of all utilities on Everglades Island, and the in-progress project on Nightingale Trail and La Puerta Way.
A long time coming
The Lake Towers project was done, along with five other single-family properties on the north side of Lake Towers, because they were served by the same poles and transformer.
Lake Towers decided not to wait for the town-wide undergrounding after concluding it would cost a little less to do it on its own, according to property manager Jeannie Carroll.
The financing was arranged this way: The town obtained low-interest financing and will pay contractor Burkhardt Construction a guaranteed price of $306,385 under a “manager at risk” system in which Burkhardt, under project manager Marc Kleisley, aggressively managed the work and agreed to absorb any cost overruns.
The property owners, through a separate line on their property tax bills, will pay the town about $254 a year for 20 years (the exact amount isn’t known until the last bill comes in from the utilities).
The at-risk system costs a little more than a low-bid approach, but it has its advantages, Strayer said. “A low bidder isn’t going to stay on top of the utilities to stay on schedule,” she said.
Lake Towers has been talking to the town about the project since 2012, and it finally came together this year after the council approved the financing plan in June.
One major hurdle in the design was determining the location for the transformer, a 3-by-4-foot metal box that sits on a concrete pad on the ground. With overhead systems, the transformers are on a pole. Once the system was buried, the transformer had to go on the ground. The Lake Towers didn’t want the transformer by the building’s front entrance, as the town originally suggested.
Ultimately, it was installed on neighbor Peter May’s property, right by the property line between May and the Lake Towers. May owns three of the five single-family properties that participated in the Lake Towers project.