Ad-Express and Daily Iowegian, Centerville, IA

August 2, 2012

What happened to Safe Routes to School project in Centerville?

By Michael Schaffer - Managing editor
Daily Iowegian

CENTERVILLE — The idea of constructing a six-foot wide Safe Routes to School concrete sidewalk from Lakeview Elementary to Howar Junior High School in Centerville is close to three-years old and appears in jeopardy. What happened? Where does Centerville go from here? Where will the money come from?

Answers for where the city goes from here and where the money needed to finish the Safe Routes to School project will come from may be found Monday, Aug. 6 when the Centerville City Council is expected to address those issues during their regular council meeting.

"Do we want to try to solicit public support and donations, contributions, in-kind contributions from various organizations here in town," Kim Crego, city clerk and commissioner of municipal services, said on Monday, July 30 about options the council may look at to help fund the project. "How do we want to proceed with this to get it funded or do we want to turn the money back to the state and have them give it to someone else."

Crego said the $249,595 Iowa Department of Transportation grant the city received for the Safe Routes to School project is still there and not in jeopardy for this year but the project is at a standstill.

Complicating the picture and helping to push the cost of the project over budget, Crego said, was the Iowa DOT requirement that the entire project had to be completed in 25 working days.

"To get all of the work done in 25 days was just unreasonable. It was an impossibility to do that kind of work," Crego said, so the city had no choice but to reject the low bid it received in August of 2011, which has left the project at a standstill. "Because it was that far over budget, the city certainly didn't have that kind of money to cover that overage."

So the Centerville City Council at their meeting on Monday, Aug. 29, 2011 voted 5-0 to reject the TK Concrete Inc. low bid of $295,796.31 for the Safe Routes to School project. The city sent the DOT a letter that pointed out the bid exceeded the construction budget by $75,575 or by more than 20 percent.

During the Aug. 29, 2011 council meeting, it was reported the city planned to rebid the project in the next couple of months and construction was expected to begin in the spring of 2012.

If the council decides Aug. 6 to keep the project alive, it would have to be rebid, Crego said. Since it's a DOT project, "it has to be bid through the DOT and you have to be a qualified contractor," something no contractor in Centerville is qualified to do, Crego said.

When the project was first announced, construction estimates turned out to be very optimistic.

For instance, the Centerville City Council at their Oct. 19, 2009 meeting approved the engineering agreement with Hall Engineering for the Safe Routes to School project. At that time, construction was expected to start in July 2010 and finish before the start of the school year.

The Centerville City Council at their Nov. 2, 2009 meeting approved a resolution for an agreement with the Iowa DOT for Phase I of the Safe Routes to School project.

At the Centerville City Council meeting May 17, 2010 it was reported the Safe Routes to School project would not be finished by the start of the 2010 school year in September, as originally planned. Huisman, with Hall Engineering, told the council it was best to wait to submit preliminary plans to the DOT in mid-October with construction to start in the spring of 2011.

The city was at the time looking at ways to reduce the cost of the project, Crego said, which included the purchase of signage (approximately $1,800), the offer to demolish and remove the broken concrete and other in-kind services.

The city during Marsha Mitchell's tenure as mayor asked the Centerville Community School District for assistance but they said they were not interested in helping with the project, Crego said.

"There's renewed interest in it now. And conversations are going on trying to see how we can possibly get this moving forward so we don't lose this grant," Crego said. "Which it would be a shame to lose it."

According to an email sent Jan. 26, 2012 by Nancy Huisman, the project engineer with Hall Engineering Company, to Crego, more than $29,000 has already been spent on the Safe Routes to School for engineering designer fees ($20,870), engineering construction fees ($6,504) and education allowance ($2,000) leaving $220,221 available for construction.

Now that the DOT has new design standards for the way documents and specifications have to be presented, Crego said, it appears that part of the project has to be re-worked by Hall Engineering, which would add at least another $25,000 to the cost of the project.

"If they have to redo (the documents that support the project), that would be another unnecessary expense," Crego said. "So we're trying to work with the DOT to see if they won't grandfather us in and give us some leeway on this so we can get it accomplished and get it done because it's an important project."

One idea Huisman offered in her email was to reduce the width of the sidewalk from six feet to five feet, which could potentially reduce the project construction cost by about $12,000-$15,000.

"However, it will require a significant amount of engineering work because the plans would have to be completely revised," Huisman wrote in her email.

At the time Safe Routes to School was being discussed, the idea was it would link to the trail in Lelah Bradley.