Council, City Hall at odds over armory

Precious time is being lost for moving ahead with plans to renovate the first floor of Marietta’s National Guard Armory due to the city administration’s apparent refusal to discuss the design criteria in public session, according to City Councilman Harley Noland, D-at large, who chairs council’s land, buildings and parks committee.

During a committee meeting Tuesday afternoon Noland expressed some frustration with the administration.

“I have scheduled four meetings to discuss this with the administration and the first were no-shows,” he said. “The last meeting was scheduled Wednesday but they declined to attend, so that meeting was canceled.”

Noland said the mayor and safety-service director have invited him to morning meetings at city hall, but those sessions could not be attended by members of the public.

“The public should know how its money is being spent and how it will be allocated,” Noland said. “Meanwhile we’re risking a quarter million dollars.”

But safety-service director Jonathan Hupp said Wednesday that the criteria for most city projects is usually ironed out during non-public meetings with engineering consultants, representatives from city departments and state agencies, and other officials before presenting the criteria to the public.

“Once everything is in place we bring it before the public,” he said. “Harley insists on having this discussion in public because he wants to bring in supporters of the armory project who talk about their business plan and how important and special the armory is. All I want to do it come up with what I believe is the best plan possible for the armory, then determine, in a public meeting, if it’s doable.”

Since 2011 the Ohio Department of Transportation has been holding onto a $252,397 National Scenic Byways grant that will be awarded once the city meets the terms of the grant.

One of the main requirements is for the city to take occupancy of the armory facility before the grant deadline expires on Sept. 30, 2015. The city is also required to keep ODOT updated on the project by filing quarterly progress reports.

A new roof, new windows and doors, new front steps, new parking lot, and some interior upgrades have been completed on the building over the last few years, but the facility has to be ready for at least partial occupancy by the grant deadline or the Scenic Byways grant will be lost, according to Noland.

He said the grant money and additional funding raised by the nonprofit Armory Square Inc. group totals more than $300,000 that’s ready to be used on the project.

But the final scope of design for the project should first be determined during a meeting that includes council members, the administration, city engineer, and other stakeholders, according to city engineer Joe Tucker.

“Sending out a request for proposal for design is not a problem, but we should provide as much background as possible, including what’s been done on the building so far and what you want to do,” he said.

Councilman Tom Vukovic, D-4th Ward, asked if council could require the administration to attend a public meeting to make the necessary plans for the first floor renovations.

“You can’t make the administration come to a meeting,” answered city law director Paul Bertram III. “But the administration and the legislative body (council) are supposed to work together.”

Council president Josh Schlicher said he would be meeting with the mayor and safety-service director and would ask them to attend a public meeting to discuss the armory with the council committee.

Hupp said the administration has scheduled a meeting May 8, but Noland said he wanted to meet sooner.

“The city engineer’s office is working on paving and sidewalk projects, the wastewater treatment plant upgrade and city hall renovation,” Hupp said. “I think Harley can wait another two weeks.”

Mayor Joe Matthews agreed, but noted he and Hupp were both in attendance during a lands, buildings and parks committee session last week.

“Harley had the council clerk come personally and invite us to that meeting,” he said. “The Armory Square people were there, too, and no one asked us anything during that meeting.”

The mayor said he and Hupp try to get to as many city meetings as they can, but sometimes can’t make it.

“Unless there’s something specific that we must be there to answer, we see no reason for all of us to attend,” Matthews said. “We have other duties, too. But if we’re asked to attend a meeting and they let us know why we’re needed, we’ll make every effort to be there.”

In other business Tuesday, Tucker requested a $61,000 change order to continue inspection and consultation services for two months by Stantec Consulting, Inc. on the second phase of the wastewater treatment plant upgrade project.

He said the project’s general contractor, PAE & Associates of Brookville, was originally scheduled to have the second phase substantially completed by June 26 of this year, and final completion by the end of August.

“But it’s apparent to us that the contractor is not going to meet that date,” Tucker said, adding that the anticipated delay will require additional time for Stantec’s services in order to ensure the project work is done properly.

Tucker and wastewater superintendent Steve Elliott have estimated that Stantec will have to be retained for at least another two months on the second phase of the wastewater project.

He noted that the project contract includes a liquidated damages clause that charges the contractor for every day on the job past the scheduled deadline. If that occurs, the city could possibly recoup the cost of the change order from the contractor.