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Largo reveals data center plans
Commissioners questions $3 million cost
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LARGO – City staff hasn’t come much closer to lowering the costs of a Largo Data Center necessary for housing of the city of Largo’s computer, networking and server equipment – a construction project that is a little more than $1 million over budget.

Largo commissioners first approved the idea of the data center in May, and even then, the project was projected to cost $1.1 million more than the $2 million set aside from the local option sales tax fund for it.

“We said we’d do our best to try to reduce that overage. We haven’t been terribly successful at that,” Assistant City Manager Henry Schubert told the commission during a work session Nov. 13. “We have worked very hard to reduce costs where we can, but also did not want to compromise the integrity of this building.”

The project is now about $1.026 million over budget, a little less than previously projected, but not by much. The building will be in the southwest portion of the Largo Public Library parking lot, within Largo Central Park.

Schubert did say that it was possible for the estimate to go down as specifics of the project are nailed down and the city finalizes the guaranteed maximum price with the construction management firm, Biltmore Construction. And the $3 million price tag includes not only the construction of the building, but also the design and equipment needed to be installed within it.

“I think we can say with a high degree of confidence that if we proceed, this is the maximum number that we’re going to see,” Schubert said. “We’re optimistic that the bottom line number will come down.”

Mayor Pat Gerard questioned why the building was going to cost 50 percent more than previously estimated.

“We knew it was going to be a special project with special components,” she said. “What happened with our estimating?”

Schubert said the staff did their best to estimate based on comparable projects.

“This is an extraordinarily expensive project because of the nature of the building,” he said.

By comparison, the city’s ongoing construction of Highland Recreation Center is going to cost $300 per square foot as opposed to $750 per square foot for the data center.

The $3 million project will protect, and keep in operation, about $1.3 million worth of equipment. The 3,000-square-foot building is being designed to survive a category 5 hurricane and be built well above the flood zone. Only a few city staff members will be required to run the facility, which will not be open for public access. In fact, the architecture of the building will be designed to be inconspicuous as possible, said Kevin Smith of FleischmanGarcia, the lead architect for the project.

“We want to make the data center blend into the park, make it look good and make it disappear, so it’s not … a facility that’s a target for terrorists or any other problem,” he said.

The facility will mimic the design of the library building itself. It will include a secured lobby, a video conference room and a data entry room where the fiber, copper and telephone wires will come into the facility and be serviced by technicians without allowing access to the computer room at the heart of the building.

An emergency generator is designed to keep the facility operating for seven days on 6,000 gallons of diesel fuel. The system also has built in redundancies: two backup batteries and multiple ways for data to come into the building. A state-of-the-art hot aisle containment system will keep the equipment cool, Smith said.

“We’ve hidden all the gear – the equipment, the emergency generators, the fuel tanks – all the ugly stuff that no one really wants to look at is behind walls and shielded from view, but that also helps us protect this critical gear from hurricanes and anything that would bring the data center down,” Smith said.

The end result is a building that is pleasing to look at, but is really “just a good-looking bunker,” Smith said.

“This is one of those projects where the actual physical building itself is almost a minor part of the project,” he explained. “The building envelope itself is hosting a lot of very expensive components.”

To make up for the difference in costs, the city’s budget will be amended to include the extra $1 million, taking more from the local option sales tax, or LOST, fund. Gerard contended that it was no small matter to remove more funds from that account. The project “got a little out of hand,” she said.

“Not that we can do a whole lot about it now, but yeah, that bothers me, because it does impact what else we’re going to be able to do with the LOST fund,” she said.

Schubert explained the data center’s current location on the second floor of city hall was no longer suitable.

“The floor will not support the additional weight … of equipment that we need to move into that data center here in the next couple of years,” he said.

Additionally, the city had “significant issues with air-conditioning in the current server room,” Schubert said. The generator backing up city hall is “too old to keep up with this type of technology,” said facilities manager Glenn Harwood.

Despite reluctance from other members, the Largo Commission gave their consent for the project to continue.

The project will take about eight more weeks to finalize construction documents, four to six weeks for building permitting and about eight months for the construction itself. Smith said that with this schedule, the building would be ready to be occupied by November 2013.
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