There should have been celebration but instead there was frustration, as the Herman City Council approved the final pay requests and change orders on the water project that began five years ago. It has been a constant battle for the council members with the contractor, States Border Construction, to keep things on schedule, work completed and done according to design.
Over one year ago, the council members entered into negotiations to settle the bills and try to get some of the final items completed. City Attorney Justin Anderson has been doing a lot of the work but Mayor Paul Kirkeide had to attend many of the negotiation sessions. One of the main concerns for everyone was that the sub contractors also got paid which was not happening one year ago.
Larry VanHout of Widseth, Smith and Nolting (WSN) was present at the March 7 meeting and has been involved with the project from the beginning. The councilmen, at times, questioned WSN’s part in the process, especially when it came to inspection. Work orders were brought to the council for approval and the councilmen felt that assurances were made that work was complete, but at times it was not done.
Councilman Jeff Nachbor wanted to know if the city would be getting any more bills regarding the project after approving the settlement amount of $165,000. VanHout responded that this was to get the paperwork going to close out the project. Any final payment would be contingent on approval from the attorney that everything was closed out.
For a brief time, the conversation got heated with councilmen showing their frustration with the entire situation. They felt that there were still things that States Border needed to do which were not included in the settlement and worried that this would result in the city having to do them.
Councilman Tom Blume finally stated “We can beat a dead horse about this and nothing more will be done. I just hate rewarding someone for ‘shitty’ work.”
The councilmen questioned if WSN took a loss of any kind on the project. VanHout stated that they “took a bath” on it too. The original project estimate was for $1.26 million and after change orders the final project cost was $1.457 million. WSN was initially to receive $338,000 and ended receiving $531,000 but had additional expenses in design work for change orders.
Blume said to VanHout “You have to understand our frustration” and VanHout said “I am frustrated too.”
After considerable discussion, the council members voted, with regret, to make the final payment of $165,000 to States Border Construction contingent on the attorney approval. It was noted that the city will get reimbursed through the project for the attorney fees.
“It is in everyone’s best interest to get this done,” Blume stated. “Due to lack of any other choice I will approve it but ‘it hurts’.”
In other business the council heard from Jim Standish representing Pullman House in Herman. The apartment building will observe its 40th year this summer. However, lately there has been concern over vacancies in the apartments. They are struggling to keep the units filled. He asked for the council’s advice on what could be done about that.
One thing mentioned was that there is a perception that it is for Senior Housing only. This is not true, people of all ages can rent an apartment there. Also all the apartments are one bedroom, which hinders any family rentals. Standish said they have considered remodeling to make a couple two bedroom units.
Council members suggested talking to some of the businesses and the school so they can let new employees know that this facility is available. Standish stated that perhaps they can change the marketing strategy to focus on other potential renters.
Grant County Sheriff Mark Haberer was present at the meeting to discuss some of the properties that have either been cleaned up after getting letters or if not, will need to be sent additional letters. There are two properties where the city council may need to consider doing abatement since the houses are uninhabitable. One of these is not occupied.
He also mentioned a water theft case that took place in the community. The council members held a closed session after the regular meeting to discuss strategy in this case.
Haberer was pleased to tell the council members that a Deputy had moved into Herman. His name is Nolan Rustin and he will be living at Pullman House. His mother is originally from Herman and his dad was a deputy in Grant County for a time. Rustin is an Alexandria High School graduate and a graduate of Alexandria Tech.