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Parks Board questions higher cost for Mississippi River park project

The Brainerd Parks Board tabled a request from WSB for extra funds for the Mississippi Trailhead Landing Park and asked for line item breakdowns of the additional costs.

The ground is all torn up, the river is in the backround.
Rain falls on the construction site of Mississippi Landing Trailhead Park Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022, on East River Road in Brainerd.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
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BRAINERD — Project managers want more money for Brainerd’s Mississippi Landing Trailhead Park project, but city officials are hesitant to loosen the purse strings.

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Parks Board members tabled action on a request from WSB for an extra $58,000 for items related to construction observation, construction materials testing and project management for the new park.

Taking shape along the Mississippi River on East River Road, the park is set to include greenspace, trails, river access, an amphitheater and an outdoor classroom. WSB was awarded the planning and design for the project in 2021, after Short Elliott Hendrickson completed a preliminary design plan with a general layout. Custom Builders Inc. received the construction contract for the project in the amount of $2,373,647.97, which was more than 15% below the engineer’s estimate. Throughout the design process, though, which WSB then went through with the Parks Board, some of the park’s features evolved and grew in complexity, WSB Senior Project Manager Matt Indihar told the Parks Board Tuesday, Aug. 23.

“One of the hardest things to do is bid construction costs off of a concept design, and that’s what we were requested to do in the RFP for this project,” he said of the request for proposal. “So as things grew in complexity, that kind of increased the amount of construction tasks that we would be doing out in the field and some of the review of the finishes and finer details that we have to do for reviewing of submittals of these higher levels park features.”

Indihar outlined the justifications for the additional funds in a memo to the Parks Board.

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The original timeline for the project was 13 weeks, during which project managers estimated they would be on-site 20 hours per week inspecting the project. While those inspection tasks have taken less than the weekly allotment, the project is into week 10 but only 20% complete because of issues on the contractor’s side relating to weather and supply chain, the memo stated.

Several changes required WSB staff to conduct more inspections and tests of materials, including a structural change to the restroom facility because of supply chain issues; expansion of the amphitheater and learning center; and a higher amount of colored concrete for the promenade, which will also be more time consuming for the contractor to pour.

There have been several issues with the colored concrete that has been delivered thus far, as nearly half of the air tests on the first truck of a pour came back with failing air content values, which means workers have had to take several air tests during each pour to verify sufficient adjustments were made to all the following loads. Air content is measured in concrete to determine its durability when exposed to freeze-thaw cycles.

The design changes also mean additional submittal reviews by WSB. The submittal review process essentially provides checks and balances during construction to ensure the end result conforms to the design laid out.

Surveyors have also had to come out to the site more often with the added complexity of the features to stake out points for the contractors to work from and because there is not enough space on the site for the contractors to work around the stakes. WSB originally budgeted a survey crew at $207 per hour for 10 site visits, but so far surveyors have averaged a visit once every other week and are up to six visits with most of the sidewalk and road work still left to complete.

With the extra work and costs, Indihar requested an additional $30,000 for construction observation, $10,000 for construction materials testing and $18,000 for project management.

Earlier in Tuesday’s meeting, City Engineer Jessie Dehn told the board the project was still roughly half a million dollars under budget in terms of the grant awarded to the city from the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources to cover a portion of the project. That total, he said, comes after half a dozen change orders, which are typical with construction projects.

Board concerns

After asking Indihar if he considered WSB as an expert in the field of construction — to which Indihar replied yes — board member Kevin Yeager asked why then the board was just being made aware of the extra funds needed now when these issues and changes should have been apparent during the bidding process.

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While acknowledging the restroom facility changes came after the bidding process, Yeager said there was a change order for that piece of the project, so additional costs could have been brought forth there.

“What smells afoul to me here is that this is all coming after … we’ve already made the purchase. We’re already well down the path,” Yeager said. “... I didn’t know it was coming. That’s what I don’t like about this.”

Indihar said there were extra steps to be worked through to acquire the building permit for the restroom structure, and he did not realize how much work that would be until he started the process with the contractor.

Another issue, he said, is that concrete has not been poured as quickly as originally planned, which created the need for more site visits and testing.

When Yeager asked why the taxpayers should bear that burden when it seems to be an issue with one of WSB’s subcontractors, Indihar said those pouring concrete are not his subcontractors. WSB was hired to observe and review the contractor’s work and make sure it lives up to plan.

“I don’t have control over their scope or means or methods,” Indihar said. “I can help them, try to push them for the city to make sure that the contract is done and completed per schedule, but I don’t control their operations.”

Dehn told the board some of these concerns did, in fact, crop up after the project was bid. WSB, he said, would not have been able to foresee things like the contractor taking longer than anticipated to pour concrete.

Additional days on site and additional tests, he added, are going to cost more.

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Dehn also admitted some of the extra costs should have been seen a little sooner and perhaps were thought to have been low enough to be absorbed into the budget, which Indihar confirmed.

He was not fully aware of how the contractor would operate, he said, and thought some of the extra costs could be absorbed.

Yeager asked if WSB stood to profit from the additional money requested or if project managers were just trying to cover their costs, to which Indihar said he is just trying to cover the costs he incurred.

Mayor Dave Badeaux, who is the City Council liaison to the Parks Board, said one of his biggest concerns is that the increase requested is more than twice the original money for the three items. The original cost proposed for construction observation, construction materials testing and project management was $51,880 but increased to $109,880 with Indihar’s request.

“I don’t want to be rude, but this is what you guys do. And we don’t do this work ourselves,” Badeaux said. “… We, as the representatives of the taxpayers, rely on experts to get this stuff done. And nothing in this meeting right here is telling me that I should have confidence in where things are going.”

Indihar asked Badeaux if he felt WSB has done proper observation of the project or has done more than is appropriate, to which Badeaux responded he feels there is a communication issue, as these changes should have been brought up sooner.

Indihar said one thing that probably did not help the communication was WSB lost its lead project manager for the park right around the time of bidding, so he and others have had to get caught up to speed, meaning some conversations were not had when they should have been.

Parks Board ultimately agreed to table WSB’s request for more funds until September and requested breakdowns for each of the three categories to see the exact costs associated with the extra work.

The Parks Board’s next meeting is Sept. 27.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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