Convention center 80 percent complete heading into 2015

Orion Construction project superintendent Ed Simeone talks about progress with St. Clair County commissioners Jeff Bohm and Howard Heidemann at the Blue Water Area Convention Center in Port Huron. (Jeffrey Smith | Times Herald)

Orion Construction project superintendent Ed Simeone talks about progress with St. Clair County commissioners Jeff Bohm and Howard Heidemann at the Blue Water Area Convention Center in Port Huron. (Jeffrey Smith | Times Herald)

By Tony Wittkowski | City Reporter | The Times Herald

The roof is done and the exterior is finished — the Blue Water Area Convention Center is nearing its completion date.

St. Clair County administrator Bill Kauffman said much of the major construction at the convention center is done. Workers still have to finish the tiling and fixtures in the restrooms, along with installation of the heating system and carpeting.

“The east side is all closed in,” Kauffman said. “The west side they’re still working on closing that entrance off to the outside.”

Once the west side is closed in, crews will begin constructing offices for the general manager, maintenance and the Blue Water Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. Kauffman said workers also are installing drywall in the main event hall.

Smaller items, such as fixtures, furnishings, signage and decoration, will be completed toward the end of the construction process, Kauffman said.

“That’s still going to take some time, and we can’t take delivery of that because we have no place to put it,” Kauffman said.

“Every day there’s progress being made,” he said. “It’s a very tight ballet that’s going on, and if one step is missed, it throws the rest of it off.”

According to a construction fund update provided to the St. Clair County Board of Commissioners, about $6.6 million had been spent on the convention center as of Nov. 30. That leaves $2.5 million in the budget, with an estimated total cost to be $8.9 million once complete.

Jeff Bohm, county chairman, said the project cost is within the original budget, despite a few change orders.

“We are right on track,” he said. “We’ve had eight change order meetings so far, and right now we are tracking change orders of maybe $15,000. However, we have a contingency fund set aside, so $15,000 will still fall well within what we have in the contingency fund to make it happen.”

When ground first broke in May, the main concern was what might be found when workers started digging. Bohm said that had the greatest potential to increase costs.

Ed Simeone, project superintendent for Orion Construction, said most of the remaining work is electrical and mechanical. Workers also are installing restroom fixtures.

“All the glass has been installed in the pre-function area,” he said. “We’re getting to the point where a lot of the behind-the-scenes things are being completed.”

Nearing the end of the year, Simeone said the convention center is 80 percent complete, nearing an expected date of completion of early February. Realistically, Orion Construction would like to have the building completed before the end of February so the convention center could be fully operational by spring.

The convention center will join a riverfront development that includes the refurbished DoubleTree by Hilton, Freighters Taproom and Eatery, and the Baker College of Port Huron Culinary Institute of Michigan.

The 43,000-square-foot facility will include a 21,600-square-foot event hall, meeting rooms and ballroom.

Karl Tomion, a county commissioner for District 2 who has been in on the planning process, put the progress in perspective.

“I think the exterior and the interior has exceeded our expectations big time,” Tomion said. “It’s one thing for these experts to tell you what the designs are going to look like. It’s another to see it.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at (810) 989-6270 or twittkowsk@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Dec. 12, 2014)

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