Public Works Building Needs Clean And Clear Air


In case you didn’t know, the City of Park Ridge’s Public Works Service Center at 400 W. Busse Highway is the City’s newest building.  It also won a “Public Works Project of the Year” award from the American Public Works Association.  So why is such an award winning building the subject of complaints by public works employees that noxious fumes from idling trucks inside the garage are spreading to the rest of the building?

That’s the question the City Council is trying to answer.  In recent weeks City staff has met privately with the building’s original architect, Chipman Adams (now Chipman Adams + Defilippis), and its original engineer, Brian Berg, and been told the problem exists because the building’s air handling system “had never been properly balanced after construction” – according to City Public Works Director Wayne Zingsheim, as reported in a recent article in the Park Ridge Herarld-Advocate.” (“Public Works’ air vent system: Out of balance,” May 29).

But if that’s the case, why have the complaints about the bad air only surfaced recently, almost 8 years since that building was put into service?  And if that’s the case, why did the architect and engineer sign off on the building?  And who at the City accepted it in that condition?

It sounds like more of a maintenance or repair issue to us, but we’re not HVAC experts…and we admit it.

As you can see from the May 15, 2008 “Background Memo”[pdf] to the Public Works Committee authored by Zingsheim, the architect and engineer recommended – and City staff concurred – that “the first step in air quality improvements should be the testing and balancing of the ventilation system in place.”  City staff also concurred in the architect’s and engineer’s recommendation of Independent Testing and Balancing, Inc., to do the balancing work at a cost of $25,000.

But by the time the matter came to the Public Works Committee on May 21, 2008 (as reflected in that Committee’s Minutes[pdf]), Public Works Supt. Brian Wiebe had a quote from Hastings Air Energy Control for $68,415.  Not to balance the current system, mind you, but to install an exhaust source capture system for the first floor of the building.  And it looks from the minutes that not only was Wiebe pushing for that, but so was Public Works Committee member Ald. Robert Ryan (5th Ward).

We here at PublicWatchdog, being the suspicious sort when it comes to local governmental bodies spending our tax dollars, have a few questions about this process:

1.  If City staff concurred in the architect’s and engineer’s recommendedation that the first step in solving the air problem should be balancing the current system, why was Wiebe looking into source capture systems for almost triple the cost of balancing the current air handling system?

2.  What were Ryan’s reasons for jumping at the more expensive proposal before getting the current system balanced?

3.  Why was Mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark in attendance at the private meeting with the architect and the engineer?  Does he have any air handling expertise of which we are not aware, or was he there simply to make nice with the un-named Chipman Adams representative, who we understand was Chipman Adams principal John Chipman, former Park Ridge alderman, one of the investors in the limited liability company developing Executive Office Plaza, and reputed friend of Frimark?  Or was Frimark engaging in the kind of “micromanagement” that he condemned while campaigning for his cut-the-Council referendum?

The Public Works Committee Minutes[pdf] indicate that Ald. Bach “moved to defer action of [sic] this item and to go out to bid and it passed unanimously (3/0).”  Given the two very different proposals in two very different price ranges, we wonder just what exactly it is that will be going out to bid? And why?  And how much more it will cost the taxpayers?

But most of all, we can’t help but wonder why this wasn’t done right in the first place?

UPDATE: 6/11/08 @ 11:30 a.m.
In a June 5, 2008 “Background Memo”[pdf] from Director of Public Works Zingsheim, we see that the staff is now proposing to award a no-bid contract to Hastings Air Energy Control, Inc. – Brian Wiebe’s and Ald. Robert Ryan’s choice – for the installation of the source capture system instead of first balancing the current system.  And without explanation, Hastings’ price has gone up to $82,535 from its previous quote of $68,415 of only a few weeks ago.

We think no-bid contracts are almost always bad for the taxpayers, and this one at first glance looks a lot like a classic bait-and-switch, with no explanation of why it has gone up $14,000 in less than three weeks.  Worse yet, there’s no explanation of why staff has moved from endorsing the balance-first recommendation of building architect Chipman Adams and building engineer Brian Berg, which could be accomplished for only $25,000.

Something about this smells, Citizens, and its not just diesel exhaust. 

4 comments so far

What’s $68 grand, or $82 grand, among friends? So long as it’s the taxpayers’ money, it doesn’t matter to Zinger, Wieber, etc. But why are they letting Chipman Berg walk away from this?

That June 5 memo shows the decision to go with the exhaust system rather than balancing the existing system being made by the employees and Aldeman Bach. What’s that all about? Now we’ve got the inmates and a politician making these decisions, and picking the more expensive one in the process? Besides exhaust, I smell the new union.

If this weren’t such a serious issue…it would be kind of funny.

What I’m seeing here is that this is turning into a $100,000 or more project, by first doing the thing (installing a source capture system) that might not have to be done at all if the other thing (balancing current system) was done first and it worked.

Talk about getting jerked around.

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