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Two Harbors City Council authorizes advertisement for bid by 4-3 split vote

The Two Harbors City Council approved a motion by a 4-3 vote Monday to authorize the advertisement of a request for proposal (RFP) for a new building for the electrical and public works departments.

The building, which has been budgeted for $400,000 in the Electric Fund, will go on the city's north campus just north of Lake County Highway 26. The building would house equipment such as transformers, wire, electrical poles and public works equipment. It will also be heated and have bathroom facilities. According to the RFP, the building will be 85 feet wide, 120 feet long and 16 feet high with two 14-by-14 overhead doors and an 8 inch thick concrete slab.

Though authorization was given to advertise for a RFP for the building, the City Council would still have to approve a bid to move forward with the project.

"Just for clarification, the motion is to allow for bids, which means we are not approving the project and we're not moving forward with the project, we are allowing for the advertisement of bids to go out," said council president Cathy Erickson. "We still have plenty of time to look at the timing and look at the issues. And we still have multiple different opportunities to discuss and share concerns."

Mayor Chris Swanson took issue with moving forward in anyway with this project at this time, including advertising for bids.

"I've personally talked to a lot of people in the community and they are concerned. The last time they heard there was a $400,000 project it turned into something much bigger," Swanson said. "I'm not against the project, in fact I think it's a great project for our employees. I'm concerned by where we are going as a council in terms of our priority projects, our CIP (Capital Improvement Plan) and the timing of how we are all doing this."

The Burlington Bay Campground bathhouse project was originally budgeted for $400,000 and when the bids came in in March 2016 the lowest bid was $868,600 to build it. The City Council decided to move forward with the project by a vote of 5-1, with Councilor Robin Glaser voting no. Glaser said Monday that she thinks it doesn't hurt to find out how much the building would cost to build and if the bids come over budget she will vote no on moving forward with the project.

"I think it's worthwhile to see if it can be done and if it can be done in a cost effective way. Maybe we can find ways to make the building less expensive for the public and for the money that we're going to use from the electric fund to do this," Glaser said. "What we are voting on doesn't mean we are hell-bent on doing this project and getting it done tomorrow. It's giving us the tools to look at what we need to build this building. And if it comes in like the bathhouse did, you can darn well bet I'm going to vote no on it. But if it comes in under the $400,000 then I'm going to say, 'wow, look at that, we did it.'"

Both city administrator Dan Walker and Councilor Jerry Norberg said they were confident that this project won't come in over budget because it is a pretty standard storage building.

"There's already been some preliminary work done on this and building companies have already submitted bids — though not through the correct process because it's over $100,000 — so we already have a pretty good idea of what it's going to cost," Norberg said. "We just keep getting more equipment and it just keeps sitting outside. If you talk to the electrical superintendent, the public works superintendent and the gas superintendent they'll tell you we need more space."

Walker added that the city has been trying to enforce a junk ordinance over the past couple of years and while doing so, the city has been reminded by the community that the city could use a little work cleaning up their own yards. Swanson said he thinks that the building should be built but not before progress has been made on fixing roads in town.

"We need better roads and our community is asking for that. And every time we do a project like this ahead of other projects the community says, 'Again? When is it our turn?'" Swanson said. "We shouldn't do this project before we have our assessment policy and spending money on roads in place first. I want to see bids for roads and then we can start working on that building."

According to Glaser, who sits on the Public Affairs, Policy and Communications Committee, said the committee should have an assessment policy in hand by their meeting next week.

"We got a preliminary policy to the administrator last week or the week before, so my hope is that by the next meeting or the first meeting in March that we will have a fairly concise policy for the assessments," she said.

Councilor Miles Woodruff said he was in support of at least finding out how much the building would cost and advertising for bids. Councilor Frank McQuade asked the motion to be tabled until the next meeting so he could have time to learn more about the project and talk to the department heads, but that request was denied.

Erickson, Norberg, Glaser and Woodruff voted yes on the motion and McQuade, Swanson and Councilor Craig Jussila voted no.

Adelle Whitefoot

Adelle Whitefoot is a Michigan native who moved to Minnesota in Sept. 2014 when she started as a reporter for the News-Chronicle. She graduated from Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Mich., in 2012 with a bachelor's in English writing and has been a professional photographer since 2011. Whitefoot is the beat writer for the Two Harbors City Council.

(218) 834-2141
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