Accusation makes tempers flare
By Sarah Nigbor
ELLSWORTH – At a special Ellsworth Village Board meeting Dec. 20, renewed debate about creating a Library Construction Oversight Committee or hiring a project manager went in circles and even brought about some angry voices as frustration flared.
Village President Becky Beissel put the item on the agenda, though the topic has dead-ended at previous board meetings. Library Building Committee members, who this fall voted against hiring a project manager, reached out to her and asked the village board to reconsider designating a village board member as the “goto” project leader and “prodder,” to keep the project moving forward.
“We’ve had this conversation numerous times and there seems to be some disconnect in the process,” Beissel said. “We’re all on the same team; we all want this project to be successful.”
Beissel pointed out that many LBC and village board members don’t have experience in managing a building project of this scale, plus, the village board welcomed multiple new members after the April 2021 election.
The discussion was brought forward “with the intent that we’ll all walk away and feel really good,” Beissel said.
Trustee Mindy Anderson, who also serves on the Library Board, said she feels it’s hard to know whose job it is to do what. For example, making sure the asbestos abatement in the 388 W. Main St. building gets taken care of. The topic came up three months ago, but the trigger hasn’t been pulled yet on any action.
Ayres Associates Project Architect Jodi Nelson pointed out that asbestos abatement in the former BMO Bank building is the responsibility of the building owner, which in this case, is the village. It’s up to the village to decide whether to hold off on the abatement until the bidding phase of the new library project is done, or to move ahead with it now. The village must also decide to abate the entire building, or just the library portion.
The state will review the building plans on Dec. 27, Village Administrator/Clerk-Treasurer Nicole Stewart said.
Confusion between board and committee members concerning Ayres’ role in the project seems to have run amok. Nelson explained that Ayres, which is the architectural/engineering firm hired to design the new library space, also provides constructions administrative services, such as putting together bidding documents.
“We would answer questions from contractors,” Nelson said. “Once the village selects a contractor, then Ayres works between the two, making sure the project is going according to the bidding documents.”
Ayres, however, is not licensed to work with asbestos abatement; it’s up to the village to bid that out and make it happen. LBC Chair Paul Bauer, who was in attendance, spoke up and said the LBC knew Ayres couldn’t take care of the asbestos, which Beissel said is throughout the entire BMO Bank building.
“We don’t have a specific person saying ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ moving this project forward,” Bauer said. “We need a champion to keep things moving. The problem is we don’t have a person in charge.”
Everyone is invested in getting the new library project over the finish line, Bauer added. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity with many groups involved.
Trustee Andrew Borner is concerned putting the “champion” burden on one village board member as a “project manager” is putting that trustee in a tough position, not to mention setting a precedent he doesn’t want to set.
Everything is just sitting there, just waiting for the next step, Bauer said.
“What do we need to do next? Where do we need to get that approved?” Bauer asked. “We need someone to shepherd the process forward faster, like a project manager.”
Stewart said the missing component in the library project is strong leadership, such as she’s seen in the village’s recent Isabelle Creek bank restoration project or the library water line construction.
“We don’t have that person standing at the top,” laying out A, B, C and D, Stewart said. As she explained the process of decisions moving from committee to village board to a non-existent leader, she admonished Bauer for trying to interrupt her.
“Well, when we have a specific administrator who halts the process …” Bauer fired back.
“Do not say that unless you know it’s true sir,” Stewart shot back loudly as Beissel called for order to be restored.
A project manager would get quotes for the asbestos abatement, select a company, and bring it to the village board, Borner said. Instead, the village has one bid for about $22,000 and no action has been taken.
The conversation circled back to whether or not a committee should be appointed to oversee project progress. Stewart asked why the Finance & Purchasing Committee can’t just review the bid documents once the state approves the plans. The question also arose whether or not the asbestos abatement couldn’t be added into the bidding documents for the project itself.
“As I’ve stated multiple times, you could have been bidding out the project (while waiting for the state to approve plans) as is very common,” Nelson said. “But the village chose not to go that route, which is fine.”
Once the project goes out for bids, the wait is three to four weeks before a company is selected. The village would then sign a contract with its chosen contractor, similar to the services contract with Ayres, which still hasn’t been signed, Nelson said. She recommended the village Finance & Purchasing Committee to solicit more asbestos abatement proposals to see if a better price can be found. It’s not worth putting it in the contractor’s court, she said, because they would upcharge for the service.
Attorney Bob Loberg stepped in, and asked for clarification on what exactly Nelson’s and Ayres’ role is in the library project. Nelson explained that Ayres coordinates its own consultants, but not consultants the village hires on its own outside of Ayres. Ayres provides architectural services, but is not at the site every day supervising progress. That would be up to the contractor’s site supervisor. All the early design work is done and really all that’s left is the bidding process and construction, which is about 20% of what Ayres covers, Nelson said. She would attend construction meetings held by the contractor.
Trustee Scott Feuerhelm was adamant that communication is needed to streamline the process to make sure progress doesn’t stop. He called the village process “ungodly painful” and said a project manager shouldn’t be subjected to it. He ultimately stepped forward and offered, as the F& P chair, to head the Library Construction Oversight Group, which is comprised of Feuerhelm, Stewart, Nelson, Library Director Tiffany Meyer and Library Board member John Thompson. Feuerhelm and Stewart will be in charge of coordinating weekly Zoom meetings, and Feuerhelm will work on obtaining more bids for asbestos abatement. The group will be in charge of communication, scheduling board and committee meetings when things need approval, and moving things forward. Its first meeting will be held the first week of January.
The board approved a Class B liquor license for RR Tavern LLC, dba Final Final Sports Bar, located at 305 W. Main St. (formerly known as Sippin’ Cedrics and briefly, Hank’s Cantina). The license is contingent on Sippin’ Cedric’s surrendering it to agent Donny Sabby.
The license would be effective Dec. 21 through June 30, 2022.
•The board approved payment No. 1 in the amount of $60,138.71 to Pember Companies, Inc., for construction of the library water service project. The money will come from the village bond proceeds.
•The board approved engineering professional services agreements with CBS Squared, Inc., for the library water service project and the Kinne Street watermain project.
•The board approved adjustments per recommendations from the auditing firm and Workhorse software firm. This allows the village to balance its books at year’s end.