City Council Recap: Showboat Design Runs Into Rough Waters, SAW Grant Program, Replacement of Mower and Sanitary Sewer

The last meeting of Lowell’s City Council met this week.  The board continued their annual ugly sweater wearing to the final meeting of the year.  A number of items were on the agenda for the meeting, which lasted an hour and a half before going into closed session to discuss pending litigation with Unity School Investors, LLC.

Showboat Design in Question

An error with the Showboat design was discovered on December 6.  It was found that final engineering documents for the structure did not indicate eight foot finished ceilings on all levels.  The error was found when Michael Lynch, the architect was preparing finishing drawings for the interior of the boat, however it is unclear why it was not caught earlier.  Lowell’s First Look reached out to a member of the Showboat Committee who referred us to City Manager Mike Burns. Burns provided some information via email but indicated he was not involved as the project manager and aware of all aspects until June of this year when former DPW Director Rich LaBombard left the position for one in Douglas.  

Lynch was not in attendance at the meeting to provide any further information or clarification.  Lou D’Agostino, a member of the Showboat Committee spoke during the meeting and indicated the problem needed to be faced and resolved.  With a limited budget, it was also noted that some of the interior design would need to be scaled back if the cost of construction were to rise significantly.  

During the City Council meeting there was no determination as to who is responsible for the mishap and if fixing the issue will result in an additional cost.  After some contention over who should shoulder the burden, one thing which was agreed upon was that ceilings lower than eight feet when finished are not acceptable.  The design of the structure should take into account the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) components. It also not mentioned how the City would proceed in resolving the issue.  A committee of the whole with all involved parties was suggested by Mayor Mike DeVore but that would not be able to be scheduled until the third week in January, which everyone agreed would be too much of a delay.  While construction of the boat has begun, the elements involved in ceiling height have not been started. Burns indicated he has been in touch with Moran, who is building the boat, to make them aware of the current situation.  It is also unknown at this time whether this issue will delay the completion of the boat a second time or if other aspects of construction can continue to take place while things are resolved.  

HVAC engineering drawings were also presented at the meeting.  The initial drawings, showing back up components for heating and cooling were questioned.  With a back up system, should the primary element fail, heating or cooling would still function.  Discussion among councilmembers resulted in questioning the need for redundancy. The consensus was that the likelihood of a failure was not worth the additional cost of having a backup in place.  There were also others areas where costs could possibly be kept down as well. This aspect of the project will continue to be reviewed before a final concept is in place.  

Approximately 2.6 million dollars have been raised through grants received from the State of Michigan and fundraising efforts.  The cost to build the structure will be about 1.5 million dollars. It is estimated to cost an additional 1.3 million to 1.5 million dollars more to complete HVAC and interior design.  

Stormwater, Asset Management, and Wastewater Plans

As part of the Stormwater, Asset Management and Wastewater (SAW) grant received, it is required that the City of Lowell adopt a Wastewater Asset Management Plan and a Storm Water Asset Management Plan.  Both of these documents were presented before Council by Department of Public Works (DPW) Dan Czarnecki.  

These documents outline the City’s plan to maintain and achieve goals within their overall Asset Management Plans.  Both plans brought before Councilmembers cover current inventory, condition of assets, what happens if assets fail, prioritizing maintenance and replacement, improving assets, and more.  

Sanitary Sewer Replacement

Through the SAW grant program, areas where clean groundwater are entering the sanitary sewer system have been identified.  Former DPW Director Rich LaBombard provided an overview of the SAW program which included information on inflow/infiltration (I/I) in an article from 2018.  

Current DPW Director Dan Czarnecki presented information to council regarding the replacement of a two block section of the sanitary sewer system on Foreman between Hudson and Beech.  The replacement of this section of the system where water infiltration is coming in through joints and cracks could result in a reducatio of up to 288,000 gallons of unwanted water per day.

A request for proposals for professional design services and construction engineering services was sent to two local engineering firms the city uses frequently.  The lowest bid came in at not to exceed $20,850 from Prien & Newhof. The work is anticipated to be done during the summer of 2020 while Lowell Area Schools is on summer vacation.

Councilmember Canfield commented in past meetings he has requested when multiple bids are received that they should all be included with information given to the City Council.  He wants to ensure that all information is available for review before a decision is made, not just documentation from the lowest bidder. He questioned the quality of work the lowest bidder has done for the city in the past.  Czarnecki made note of Canfield’s request and indicated that Williams & Works also submitted a proposal and that the cost was for over $40,000 when Canfield asked who submitted the second bid and how much they would charge. Council voted to accept the lowest bid in a 4-1 vote with Canfield being the only one not in agreement.  

Peter Haefner reviews financial statements.

Other Agenda Items

Several items on the agenda took less time to cover.  After the completion of an audit, Peter Haefner of Vredeveld Haefner LLC, a CPA firm, presented some slides showing an overview of the financial statements for the City.  The City was within 1% of its projected revenue and within 3% of projected spending, both of which are good numbers according to Haefner. He also provided a broad overview of various accounts within the City’s budget, all showing operating within expectations.

City Councilmembers agreed unanimously to extend the franchise agreement with Consumer’s Energy to provide gas to Lowell residents and businesses.  This agreement was extended for an additional 30 years.

The City also approved an agreement with Lowell Little League so the group can use fields at Creekside and Recreation Park.  This agreement will expire May 30, 2021 and allows the group to plan for their spring registration beginning early next year.

Poverty exemption guidelines were also approved during this week’s meeting.  The Michigan Tax Commission requires the adoption of these guidelines by local governing bodies to ensure something is documented should a request be made by a property owner.  

In the 2019-2020 budget funds have been put aside to purchase a new mower.  The mower which will be replaced is 19 years old and is typically used at the wastewater treatment plant.  The new mower has a price tag of $9,119.00 which falls within the budgeted amount. The new mower will be purchased before the end of the calendar year as the price is anticipated to rise in January.

Meeting Information

City Council will meet again on Monday, January 6 at 7pm on the second floor of City Hall.  Meeting agendas, packets, and recordings can be found on the Lowell City website.  Videos can also be found at the City of Lowell’s YouTube page.  Or check in with Lowell’s First Look for recaps following each meeting. 

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