CEDAR RAPIDS — Linn County supervisors approved an agreement Wednesday they say will provide the best local contractor to build a new public health building.
The Board of Supervisors voted 4-1, with Supervisor John Harris opposed, to enter into a lease-purchase agreement not to exceed $31.5 million for the Dr. Percy and Lileah Harris Public Health and Youth Development Services building in southeast Cedar Rapids. The board also approved a lease for the county-owned property, also with Harris opposed.
The decision to enter the lease-purchase agreement — the first time the county has used that mechanism — is the latest in a roughly two-year process to design and eventually construct the 55,000-square-foot building at 1019 Seventh St. SE whose name will honor the civil rights icons.
That’s the location of the former Options of Linn County, which was destroyed in the 2008 flood and that was later declared by the city of Cedar Rapids to be in an urban renewal zone.
Amid questions raised by Linn County Auditor Joel Miller over the supervisors’ decision to limit proposals to only local contractors, rather than open the process to any contractor, Supervisor Brent Oleson said the board’s decision is based on a desire to support local contractors, especially those that helped the county rebuild after the 2008 flood.
“People who live and work in this community are going to build this building,” Oleson said, responding to Miller’s objections. “It’s not going to be built by somebody from Minneapolis with some contractors scattered all over Illinois who are paid and take that money back to their communities. We’ve been doing this for two years and to swoop in at the last minute and throw rocks, by one person, it’s a joke.”
The board earlier this month sent a request for proposals to Cedar Rapids contractors Miron Construction, Unzeitig Construction, Tricon Construction Group, Kleiman Construction, Ryan Companies and Rinderknecht Associates. The document calls for a contractor to be selected in February.
Four of the companies worked on post-flood projects for the county.
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Miron built the community services building and performed renovations and expansions to the jail and public service center; Unzeitig took on county courthouse renovations; Kleiman built the Juvenile Justice Center; and Tricon renovated the sheriff’s office building, according to Darrin Gage, Linn County director of policy and administration.
The supervisors will select which contractor gets the job.
‘is the fix in?’
Miller’s concerns focus on whether a lease-purchase deal is a fair selection process and whether it will add delays and costs.
He also has questioned why the board is pursuing a state-allowed, “reverse-referendum” process that lets supervisors issue up to $31.5 million in general obligation bonds for urban renewal without a referendum.
Wednesday. he presented the board with about 130 signatures from residents asking for a vote. But it would take close to 12,000 signatures to force a vote.
“It’s legal, but is it ethical?” asked Miller, a longtime Democrat who recently switched to no-party affiliation. “Are the citizens being dealt a fair hand, or is the fix in?”
As the lone dissenting vote, Harris — the only Republican on the board — said his top concerns were costs and time.
“I think fewer dollars could be used to get a building that is acceptable,” he said before the vote. “I understand my colleagues are very much in favor of this process, and I will respect the outcome of the vote and do everything I can as a board member under this arrangement to keep costs down.”
While the agreement is for up to $31.5 million, David Sorg, principal with building designer OPN Architects, said the estimated construction cost is about $21.5 million. Additional expenses include furniture, fixtures, equipment and contingencies.
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“That $31.5, that is an absolute, never to exceed, we never even see it getting up to that amount, figure,” Supervisor Ben Rogers said. “If the contractor makes the mistake of bidding high, then we don’t have to consider it.”
Rogers added that a lease-purchase agreement gives the county more control and eliminates change-order costs that can come with a standard bidding process. The agreement also will include a deadline that includes penalties if the contractor fails to meet it.
health care ‘desert’
As a turnkey project, the county will take ownership of the building after it is completed to specifications.
Named after civil rights leaders Dr. Percy and Lileah Harris, the building will house the county’s Public Health and Child and Youth Development Services departments.
While the new county health department is praised for its mix of community services and public amenities, moving it from 501 13th St. NW to southeast Cedar Rapids has a few, including state Rep. Kirsten Running-Marquardt, D-Cedar Rapids, concerned that doing so creates a health care desert in the northwest quadrant.
Running-Marquardt asked supervisors Wednesday to consider maintaining some options for residents there.
“I’m not trying to stop the project from moving forward, but publicly, please leave something in the form of an access point for health care on the west side of Cedar Rapids,” she said.
Several supervisors, including Rogers and Stacey Walker, said they would explore it.
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