For the second time in two weeks, the Sandwich City Council has rejected a motion to accept bids to renovate a city-owned building for use as the city police station in a split 4-3 ballot.
The council’s vote came during a special meeting Sept. 4, just eight days after an initial motion made during a regular council meeting produced the same ballot result.
At the regular meeting and the special meeting, voting for approval of the $4.6 million contract with Harbour Contractors Inc. of Plainfield were Aldermen Richard Robinson, Kevin Kelleher and Cara Killey. Voting to deny the contract were Aldermen Cheryl Chmielewski, William McMahon, Les Redden and Pete Dell.
After the Sept. 4 meeting, Mayor Richard Olson said he was hopeful one of the opponents might change their vote, but it did not happen.
Olson said he has no hard feelings about the votes.
“If the aldermen aren’t comfortable with the figures, they aren’t going to approve the project. I can understand that,” he said.
No future meeting has been set to discuss the project, Olson said.
The bids expired on Friday, Sept. 7, so if and when council members decide to proceed with the project, they will have to advertise for new bids.
The new police station is planned to be located in the former Designed Stairs building at 1251 E. Sixth St. Constructed in 2002, the building has sat vacant since 2009. The city purchased the 17,000-square-foot building and an adjoining two acres of undeveloped land for $480,000 in 2016.
The present police station at 308 E. College St. has been crowded for years and cannot be expanded, so a new facility is needed, according to city officials.
Bids from more than 70 firms in 17 categories for the project were received and opened by Sandwich city and police officials July 11.
Olson and Police Chief Jim Bianchi said at the time that they were pleased with the number of bids received for the project.
Olson said this week that the $4,613,240 total of the bids for the project was actually under the architect’s estimate, but this was not the problem for the council. He said the aldermen who have opposed accepting the bids are not sure where the money will come from and are concerned that other city needs may not be met.
He emphasized that none of the council members are opposed to the project.
“But they want to be sure we have the financing to do it,” he said.
Aldermen who are opposed are especially concerned about having enough money to make a commitment to pay off a mortgage on the building and still fund other city projects beyond this, Olson said.
He said it’s very possible that if the council were to agree to seek new bids for the project, those could come in higher than the ones they have twice rejected.
“I would not expect it to be less, but I’m not a builder so I don’t have any experience with this,” he added.
Olson also noted that interest rates to finance the project could increase between now and when new bids would be received. He noted that even a 0.5 percent rate increase could be quite costly over the 20 years it would take to retire the mortgage.
“Every council member wants to see this resolved. We are planning to speak with a group in the home office of Lauterbach and Amen, financial advisers and certified public accountants out of Naperville. They have worked with Plano, Yorkville and other area cities,” he added.
He said Mack and Associates of Morris also has been contacted for possible assistance, and they may talk to city officials within the next week. Their area of expertise is municipal audits, budgets and similar financial items, he said.
“My goal is to have a budget that we will be able to work with and understand, but it’s hard to say whether we can do anything in this calendar year. I think the overall consensus is that we will have a new police building, but right now there are just too many questions,” Olson said.
Olson said it would be difficult to do the work piecemeal rather that than approve a contract for the complete project. There are too many items that need repairs and conversions, and if the city tries to phase it, a lot of things probably would end up not getting done, he said.
“My opinion is that once we decide to do a project like this, we should do all of it at one time. I’m optimistic that it can be resolved. I don’t hold anything against the aldermen. They are aware of this. I think they all want to put this together, but not until each one is comfortable with the final figures,” Olson said.
He added the building will remain as is for the time being, although there are some things the city can still do before a final decision is made.
There also is a possibility the city could sell the building, but Olson said he would be opposed to that.
“The police department is near to my heart, but we need to take one step at a time. I was a cop for almost 40 years, but I also have a commitment to the rest of the department heads and the entire city. I came here in 1994 [as a police officer], and we needed a new building then,” he said.
At the special meeting, one audience member asked if the city had put any money away for the police station project.
“I told him we had been doing this for several years, even when I was police chief. We used some of it for the planning and engineering phases of the project,” Olson said.