St. Boni citizens discuss community center project

By Lorrie Ham

Prompted by an e-mail from resident Fred Keller, a roomful of citizens attended the St. Boni City Council meeting on Oct. 2 seeking information about the pending community center redevelopment project.
By the time the two-hour meeting was over, two more members had been added to the building committee, additional dollars had been potentially allocated for the project, citizens’ voices had been heard and plans had been made to review the project’s specifications in preparation for soliciting bids.
The scope and cost of the project have been at issue since 2007, when discussion began about converting the former public works garage adjacent to city hall to a community center. The center would replace the use of the old city hall as a community center. Twice the city has gone out for bids on the project – once in 2007 and again earlier this summer. And twice the bids have been rejected for going over budget.
The lowest of the three bids submitted in August 2013 was $239,800, well over the $155,000 budget, which included an estimated $15,000 in city hall upgrades unrelated to the redevelopment project.
At that time, a four-member building committee, comprised of city council and planning commission members, was appointed to oversee the development project and to bring a lower-cost recommendation back to the city council.
Keller, who serves as chair on the city’s planning commission and is a member of the building committee, outlined the history of the project and asked the council to work with architect Martin Woody, who prepared the plans in 2007 and again in 2013, to move forward with a project that the community wants. Keller claimed that the planning commission’s recommended project was well within the allocated budget.
Mayor Rick Weible said the council had appointed a committee to come back with a proposal, so plans were moving forward. In response to Keller’s e-mail, Weible said, “This is normally not to be dealt with at the council level.” He said Keller’s actions created an atmosphere among residents who did not have all the facts.
Residents in attendance seemed clear that they wanted something to happen with the project. If cost is the issue, can’t part of the project be done this year and part of it next year, wondered one resident.
Weible went on to clarify some points, using a timeline posted on the wall of the council chambers. He also explained some of the state law requirements, including the required public notice solicitation of sealed bids for any contract that is estimated to exceed $100,000. A contract term generally covers two years, he added, preventing the opportunity to “piece meal” the project.
Weible also explained that when the bids came in high for the original plans in 2007, the council decided at that point to wait to re-bid the project for five years until existing street bonds were paid off. That way the city would not have to raise taxes to pay for the project, he said.
“This project was over-designed for the budget,” said Weible. The specs need to be reviewed to determine if they represent what the city actually wants, he added.
Keller agreed that there were some issues in what was presented in the specs. “We were more focused on the plans and it appears that some of the specs are not what we asked for,” he said.
Weible suggested that the building committee develop a “base plan” and prepare add-ons, which the city can approve or not, based on cost and what the community wants.
Councilmember Bob Smestad suggested abandoning the proposed Main Street sidewalk improvement project (Kennedy Memorial Drive south to Highway 7) and diverting those funds (an estimated $60,000) towards the community center.
“Personally, I wouldn’t build anything and not have it completed before we use it,” said Smestad. “It is my contention if we’re going to do this project is to do it completely. It would be nice to provide our citizens with a clean, comfortable space to use.”
That said, Smestad added that he’d like to see a “complete” project, but for the original $140,000 budget. “Sacrifices in aesthetics may have to be made,” he said.
Councilmember Joe Arwood agreed with Smestad. “Can we cancel the sidewalk project?” he asked. “I think the citizens here are pretty clear that they are ready to delay the sidewalk project and get this (the community center) done.”
“Absolutely,” said Weible, since both the sidewalk and community center projects are in the proposed 2014 budget which has yet to be certified. Weible suggested that an additional $10,000 set aside for the public works capital outlay fund could also be diverted to the community center project. Taking out the city hall improvements of an estimated $15,000, the available funding comes pretty close to the proposed project cost, he added.
Two more citizens volunteered for the building committee, which will meet again on Oct. 15. Residents with thoughts or concerns were invited to contact city hall or to attend an upcoming council meeting.
In another matter, the council was happy to pass a resolution accepting the cost to be assessed for the 2013 street improvement project at $1,583,630, a figure which is 26.3 percent below the preliminary estimate. City Clerk Brenda Fisk noted that the final number could actually go down a little further, but it can’t go up.
The council also set the date of Oct. 23 at 7 p.m. for the public hearing on the proposed assessment.