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Before the event, J & J Construction, Inc. project manager Skip Smith breaks up frozen sand intended as groundbreaking soil for Thursday's ceremony at Avondale Youth and Family Development Center.

Cost increases totaling more than $331,000 for change orders related to rebuilding the Avondale Youth and Family Development Center drew questions from Chattanooga City Council members Tuesday.

Construction began in January on Phase 1 of the new, larger center, budgeted at $6 million. But many neighborhood residents are unhappy with the building's design, and they have sharply expressed discontent over the size of the indoor basketball court and their dislike of concrete bleachers in the gym.

The council's agenda included a resolution boosting fees for architect Hefferlin+Kronenberg by $164,798, bringing the contract amount to $505,298. A second resolution added $166,539 to builder J&J Contractors Inc., bringing the contract total to just more than $4.9 million.

District 8 Councilman Anthony Byrd's first question to Deputy Public Works Administrator Donald Stone and Assistant City Engineer Dennis Malone was whether the added sums were related to constituents' concerns.

Not really, they said. They mostly reflect a variety of added costs, from replacing soft soils under the building to redesigning some of the electrical infrastructure and relocating the parking lot and tennis courts. The original construction time was estimated at eight months, but the contract was extended to 12, so that boosts costs as well.

Stacy Richardson, chief of staff for Mayor Andy Berke, said city staff had hoped to have answers Tuesday to constituents' questions, including installing seating atop the concrete bleachers and shifting the basketball court away from the bleachers to increase the safety zone for players.

She apologized for the delay and said the mayor's office hopes to meet with Byrd and community members within 30 days. Those decisions might affect the project's cost and opening date, originally planned to take place in time for summer programming.

"I know it's important to you," Richardson said.

Malone said prep work is under way to pour the gym's concrete floor in the next week or two, followed by masonry and electrical work and other finishing.

Byrd asked whether the extra expenses will mean the city will have to put more money in the project.

Malone said he didn't yet know. Design work for Phase 2, comprising demolishing the old building, putting in parking lots and outdoor sports fields, should be finished next week, he said, and there's still money left unspent.

"We'll talk it over in the next couple of weeks to see if there needs to be an ask for funds to move forward," Malone said.

Council members voted at their 6 p.m. business meeting to approve both resolutions.

Contact staff writer Judy Walton at jwalton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416.

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