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BLOOMINGTON - Unexpected expenses connected to the construction of U.S. Cellular Coliseum have eaten up nearly $700,000 of its $1 million contingency fund.

However, that will not increase the overall $37 million price tag for the downtown building, nor will those costs be passed on to taxpayers.

The City Council recently approved paying for $471,000 for hook-ups and fixture rough-ins to accommodate the food and beverage plan. Johnston Contractors, the general contractor for the building, received the plan in October after the city settled the issue of who would be running the Coliseum.

That plan is the largest of six change orders that have been approved by the City Council since construction began in August 2004. They total $687,501.

City Manager Tom Hamilton said the cost for the food and beverage plan did not get added to the building's budget because staff and builders did not even know where to begin with an estimated cost.

The City Council endorsed the added expense by a unanimous vote. Although Alderman Kevin Huette supported the expense, he would have preferred even a rough estimate in the budget for the food and beverage plan.

"Then we are not caught near the end with a $500,000 expense wondering how we are going to pay for it," Huette said. "A contingency fund is there to pay for unforeseen and unexpected expenses on projects. Here we are tapping into it for an expense that we knew about."

Alderman Karen Schmidt also questioned the food and beverage plan expense during council discussion, but said she was not surprised the contingency fund would be used to pay for it.

"We knew from the get-go there were going to be expenses we couldn't estimate," Schmidt said.

Overall, both aldermen said they were pleased at how construction is progressing and how it has remained within budget.

The Coliseum's contingency fund, now slightly more than $300,000, is built into the $37 million budget. With less than two months left on construction, Hamilton said he is confident what remains in the fund will be more than enough to cover any other expected costs.

Most construction projects budget 5 to 10 percent of a project's estimated costs for a contingency fund. But Hamilton said the city opted for a modest $1 million fund instead of something closer to $1.5 million to $3 million. "We thought we'd be fine with only a $1 million and I think it will prove that we will be fine," he said. "I haven't heard of any other large problems and construction is almost done."

Any money that remains in the fund after construction is completed will be returned to the city.

The 7,000-seat Coliseum is under construction at Madison and Front streets in downtown Bloomington. The building is expected to open March 31.

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