Community Center - A Dangerous Approach

Dear Friends,

This past Monday was the last Town Board meeting for councilmen Chris Aronica and Ray Billica. I wish them well, especially in this Christmas season. Speaking of Christmas, boy, did they leave us with a gift—a white elephant gift.

Chris, Ray, and Mike Madigan voted to approve a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a community center. I’ve made it clear that I think we need to consider a community center, and that we need to go about it in a reasonable and fiscally prudent fashion. I have advocated for community input workshops and have spoken about possible ideas at the Golden Age Center and in front of other groups. 

A dangerous approach

What these gentlemen approved will potentially threaten the fiscal well-being of our town, and I ask you to vote against it. They voted for a RFP that asks the community to create designs—with quotes—based on the loose sketches of someone, possibly one of our former councilmen.

That’s like sending out a RFP for a hospital and saying, “We want an emergency room, some beds, and maybe one of those X-ray thingees” and hoping you get a quality building that is exactly what you wanted.

The two methods

There are two approaches used in the design and construction of buildings. “Design Build” (DB) and Design, Bid, Build (DBB). In a design build plan (similar to what they voted for) the same person who creates the design constructs the building. That’s problematic for two reasons:

1.     COST CUTTING: If, for example, the party building it says they can do it for $1,000, and we say yes, then they have an incentive to cut corners and build it for less to increase their profit.

2.     BID RIGGING: When you throw out a vague RFP to the community and ask for ideas, Party A might come forward with a good design for a structure that they say will cost $1,000. Party B might come back and say, “I could build that same structure for $900. This is not fair. If I knew you wanted that type of structure I would have offered that. How did Party A know you wanted that?”

That’s why most of the time towns like ours go with a DBB model, where one party (an architect) designs the building and oversees a separate contractor, who does the actual building, to make sure that the final product matches the original design. It avoids the threat of extreme cost cutting, retains management by the town, and avoids accusations of bid rigging because bidder knows exactly what they are bidding on.

GI has tried DB before and failed twice

The Town built that Parks Department shed on Bedell using the Design Build model. What did we get? We paid about 1.5 million dollars for a shed that should have cost $675,000 (it’s assessed at close to what it should have cost, $75 per square foot). It was built on private property, we did not get what was designed, and we had the Town employees out there grading and fixing things after the fact. The engineering department grumbled about it, the citizens grumbled about it, and the team that built it actually came in with a check one day to apologize for all the things that went wrong. The check was for $2,000, which is a drop in the bucket of a 1.5-million-dollar fiasco.

We did the same thing this year at Veterans Park. We paid a design firm to create a pavilion for the Little League. I was not part of that process, but it was the right thing to do. The problem is that we asked that design firm to design the Taj Mahal of pavilions, and it was too expensive to build. So we tried the DB model with an in-house napkin sketch of a design. I believe Mr. Billica drew up the plans. Trying to make the peace, I agreed to the purchase of materials. And guess what? Our engineering team came to me in a panic and said building that design would result in a hazardous structure. They said, “It’s going to fall down!”

So where are we now? We have a pile of lumber that I’m afraid is going to rot over the winter. The Engineering Department is desperately trying to figure out how to build something safe with a pile of spare parts leftover from the napkin design.

Let’s not make this mistake again

If the new Town Board continues down the path set out last night, there is a high chance that we will either get another shed, another pile of parts, or a building that looks nice, but unravels in five years. We can’t do this to our community.

I tried to convince the Town Board that this was not the rational approach to building a community center. I spent many hours with Mr. Billica trying to talk him out of this course of action. I had a deep desire to allow the Town Board to go our separate ways on a high note. But sometimes logic and good faith persuasion just does not work, and someone needs to stand up and say "no." Even if I look like the bad guy, that's my job.

If they give you another shed—vote no! Especially if it's built by someone’s close friends. We do need to improve our Golden Age Center and build recreational facilities for the long term health and wellbeing of the Town. We don’t need to waste taxpayer money on a napkin, a prayer, and a handshake.

With highest regards,

Nate