Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
February 5, 2015 7:45 p.m.
Commissioner Robin Lentz added the final discussion item to the agenda for the February 3, 2015 Regular Meeting of the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC). She explained to commissioners that as part of the remodel of the existing city building housing the Fernandina Branch of the Nassau County Library, the architects and planners had not provided for replacement of the existing tile ceiling and overhead lighting fixtures. City Manager Gerrity said that the change order to replace the items in the main room would cost approximately $58K, and to extend the replacement to all portions of the original structure, the cost would rise to $74K. After considerable discussion, heated at times, the FBCC approved spending $35K to split the cost of the change order with the Friends of the Library. Only Commissioner Pat Gass opposed the motion.
Lentz explained that the original cost for the renovation and expansion of the building was $1.8M, but because of costs that amount was trimmed back to $1.6M. When the previous commission demanded that the roof be replaced as part of the project, the architect removed the plan to lower the ceilings in the original structure to save money. Lentz said that many of the ceiling tiles have sustained water damage because the roof leaked, the lighting is so old that replacement parts cannot be made, the Plexiglas covers are no longer made. When the ceiling was originally built, the grid for tiles was customized. The tiles to fit these grids are no longer made so replacements cannot be purchased. Originally the planners had been led to believe that the tiles could be replaced and the lighting fixed, but that is no longer possible. The Friends of the Library (FOL) have offered to meet the city halfway on the cost.
Commissioner Pat Gass interrupted saying, “Amen.”
“I know that,” Lentz said. “But I also know that this is [the city’s] building. We want to be proud of it. We own it. It’s nice of the FOL to even agree to pay for half. So I’m hoping that you will move forward to support this. … Maybe we could pledge $35K from the sale of the city property on South Fletcher to support this. The other great thing about changing the lighting is that the building would become more energy efficient. I think right now there are 95 fixtures in the ceiling, and those would be reduced to 40.”
Lentz asked Bill Flynn, FOL President, to step forward to talk more about the lights. He talked about the toxic PVCs in the original lights. He also explained how the size of the ceiling grids and tiles has changed. “One of the things I thought we gave up from the original plan,” he said, “was lowering the ceiling. But when we replaced the roof, that improved the R rating from 2-4 up to the high 30’s. But what I didn’t realize was that nothing would be done to the ceiling at all. I just didn’t pick up on that.”
Lentz moved to approve funding half of the larger project, and Commissioner Tim Poynter quickly seconded her motion.
Commissioner Pat Gass said, “I’ll be more than happy to share how I feel. First of all, it was not the commission that wanted the roof instead of the ceiling. Those changes were agreed upon by the FOL. I cannot tell you how frustrating it was to sit here and try to communicate the fact that if you have a budget of $1.6M to build something, it is best not to take the offer that builds it all the way up to the line. Because there are bound to be change orders.”
Turning to Flynn, she added, “But we were assured there would not be. Every time we tried to suggest we tweak something, cut something back … no, no, no. ‘The committee had looked at it. This is what we have to have.’ A room full of people with [FOL] bags around their necks, standing outside … ‘This is what we must have. Nothing else. Don’t change it.’ I was the only one who voted against it. They got what they wanted. Read it—it’s in writing a contract—it says if there are any changes, they will pay for it. Because we said that we, the citizens, only have $600K. By the way, by the time that $600 is paid back it will actually be $689K of tax dollars or impact fees. When you sign a contract, you make a deal and you stick with it. We tried to warn them; they didn’t want to listen. Not at all. Come on in, everybody: sign a contract with the city, we don’t expect you to stay with it. How much money do they have, because they assured us they would have plenty and that they would have a line for a loan to cover all this. Do you have any answers to those [questions?]”
Lentz said, “I was here, Commissioner Gass, and I heard all this. But I have also been involved with projects where you hit road bumps.”
“Exactly,” an irritated Gass interjected. “That’s why you plan for those things.”
Lentz said, “They are a group of volunteers.”
Gass continued her disagreement. “That’s not how they presented it. They presented themselves as highly intelligent, well-educated professionals, which is why we should have listened to them. That’s what we were told,” she said as she turned and gestured toward Flynn.
Commissioner Tim Poynter said that he has been involved in a lot of construction projects and it doesn’t really matter how you plan for things, because stuff happens. “At the end of the day it is our building. If you have been over there and seen how nice it will be for the community … I think the estimate was $480,000 originally for the city to fix what needed to be fixed without adding anything to the existing footprint. For an additional $120K, the city gets a $1.6M building. I would hate to walk into, in effect, a new building and see stained ceiling tiles, when $1.6M has been spent on that building. I think it is incumbent on the city to spend the money, since it is their asset. As far as the FOL, for what they have done for this community, I think we should absolutely support this.” He turned toward Gass and said, “I know you absolutely disagree with me on this, and I’m good with that, too.”
City Manager Joe Gerrity said, “I absolutely must stand up for city staff …”
Poynter interrupted, “You were the project manager.”
Gerrity continued, “… and VRL architects and Moran Builders. Without this ceiling issue, this project would absolutely come in on budget.”
Gass said, “Good. If we didn’t do the change order.”
Gerrity continued, “I expressed some concern when we did the initial contract. It’s phenomenal to go into a remodel of an old building and bring it in on budget like that. Again, it’s not relevant to this discussion, but it is important to note.”
Gass continued to dispute the time frame for completion with the added scope of work. “And that’s not going to slow us down one day? Not One?”
Lentz said that one of the things holding up work right now is the decision on the ceiling. The contractor does not want to install the new carpet if the old ceiling is to be torn down.
Gass turned her questioning to Flynn. “Mr. Flynn,” she said, “you said you would pay for this. How much money have you got?” She repeated her question with more emphasis and hand gestures. “You said you would have more than enough to do it. Not half of it—all of it.”
Mayor Boner interrupted Flynn, who was trying to explain that this was a maintenance issue. “Mr. Flynn, I want to apologize,” he said. “That came across as rude.”
Flynn returned to the podium and brushed off the Mayor’s concerns. “This is somewhat like a couple of years ago when we reopened talks to replace the roof. That made sense when you were redoing the building. The same thing with replacing the windows on 4th Street. They could have stayed there, but it makes sense to do some of these things when the building is being ripped up. I look upon doing the ceiling as the same type of future maintenance avoidance.”
Gass said, “I agree but what about our contract that we legally signed?”
Flynn agreed but added, “It also says we get the opportunity to discuss change orders and we agree to pay half.”
Gass disagreed with Flynn’s interpretation, saying that FOL agreed to pay anything beyond the city’s $600K commitment. “You said you would have it covered and you signed a legal document stating that.”
An increasingly uncomfortable Mayor Boner attempted to end the discussion by thanking Flynn, but Gass said, He hasn’t answered the question as to how much money he’s got and what about the contract?”
Boner said, “I think it is up to us to decide if we want to support the request.”
In response to Gass’ continued demand, Boner invited Flynn to return to answer her questions.
“Well,” Flynn said, “we put $400K into escrow, and that money is being drawn down. There is still money in that account.”
“Great,” said Gass.
“We’ve put out money to move books, and we’ve done that, and we have some money left,” Flynn explained.
Gass asked, “Then why not money for [the issue before the commission]?”
“Because we think this is preventive maintenance,” Flynn said, “and it falls along the same theory as the roof and the windows.”
“Did you see that clause in the contract about change orders?” Gass asked.
“If that doesn’t get done, nothing will get done,” Flynn replied.
“That’s fine,” Gass said.
When the vote was taken, all commissioners except Gass voted to spend the $35K as the city’s half of the cost to replace the old ceiling and overhead light fixtures.
Mayor Boner thanked Bill Flynn and the Friends of the Library for their selfless contribution to the community and all that they do.”
Gass said with a chuckle, “Let’s sign another contract.”
Boner quickly retorted, “If I could sign a contract every year with people like the FOL, I would.”
Gass said, “Then you should meet the Humane Society.”
Gerrity informed commissioners that he planned to take the money from the contingency fund, but that the fund would be replenished with money from the sale of the South Fletcher property.
Boner added, “By the way the consolidation of [police] dispatch with the county will save almost a million dollars the first year. … I think with saving money like this you can spend a couple of a dollars on a building that needs a new ceiling.”
“Don’t forget to vote for Bill Leeper for Sheriff,” Gass continued. “Because if he is no longer sheriff, we have to go out and buy new equipment [for return of dispatch to the city].”
After more than 15 minutes of discussion the Mayor moved on to another item.