It’s a complaint so common that it’s nearly a cliché: working with the government can entail frustrating layers of bureaucracy and maddening delays. Now a new report released by the Center for an Urban Future (CUF) and Citizens Budget Commission (CBC) has revealed that even small-scale renovation projects at New York’s city-backed libraries and cultural institutions take longer and cost more than comparable projects managed by other organizations.
Slow Build, a 36-page report based on a yearlong study of 144 projects completed between 2010 and 2014, found that even small upgrades and renovations can languish for years while the median costs for new construction projects in the group were $930 per square foot—significantly higher than five-star hotels and roughly twice as much as the average office construction project.
The study was based on information provided by the city’s Department of Design and Construction (DDC), which oversees maintenance and construction of public projects. The research began after an earlier study by CUF identified libraries as a key generator of opportunity within communities, but found that the average branch library was more than 60 years old, and dozens of branches had maintenance needs of $5 million or more.
Using a mix of project data and interviews with people working in the system, CUF and CBC came up with a number of suggestions for improving the process, including a cutback on one of the key causes of delays: the many Office of Management and Budget department reviews triggered by change orders.
For their part, DDC notes that the study looks at projects undertaken during the previous mayoral administration and that a number of steps have been implemented to streamline the process, trimming the procurement cycle by 25 percent and cutting the design phase by 50 percent. To further cut down on delays, the agency also advocates for the city to follow the state’s lead and implement a design/build approach.
But CUF says more can still be done to limit the impact of drawn-out projects on local communities. Says CUF executive director Jonathan Bowles, “There are very limited dollars out there to invest [in library and cultural projects] and we want to make sure that those dollars get stretched as much as possible—and that’s not happening.”