Fennell presses city on building
Published: Thursday, June 19th, 2014
Fueled by rumblings of citizens questioning inactivity and possible rumors that he was to blame for that inactivity, Gene Fennell was before the Custer City Council at its Monday night meeting to press the city to move ahead with plans and construction on the Custer Community Center.
Fennell, owner of the architectural firm Fennell Design, Inc., reminded the council that it received the latest drawings of the building last August and he hasn’t received a response since.
“I was a little unhappy when I heard we are the problem,” he said. “I don’t think we are. We kind of need some direction.”
Fennell said the latest set of plans for the building are 80 percent complete—the most complete set of drawings his firm can create without knowing financing details for the building. To date, the city has not undertaken any major financing for the project, which has been estimated between $400,000 and $1 million, depending on how extensive the city wants the renovations to be.
Instead of financing the total building overhaul, the city has instead worked on the building incrementally with around $100,000 set aside each budget year. This method has paid for a new boiler in part of the building, as well as some demolition work. However, some in the community are dissatisfied with the pace of the project. That includes former community development director Rex Harris, who took shots at the city’s handling of the project after he was fired.
“The building may fall down before work to improve it ever starts,” Harris said.
The city has allocated another $100,000 toward the project in its current budget, which will be used for some structural renovations inside, as well as installation of a sprinkler system. However, Fennell said he wants the council to look at the bigger picture and decide if and how it wants to pursue funding, or whether it plans to move ahead at all. Doing the work piecemeal, he said, creates too great a burden for his business and also will create conflict down the road in terms of infrastructure.
For instance, he said, once the sprinkler system is installed, parts of it may need to be moved when the duct work, electrical systems, etc., are installed.
Mayor Gary Lipp said he would take the blame, if necessary, for lack of work on the building, noting that the city does not have much of a budget to work with, as the city is near its debt ceiling because of the various Tax Increment Financing Districts in town.
“Some adventures have not paid off,” he said.
He added that he is not willing to raise people’s taxes to fund the community center, thus the project is being done as money allows.
“I think the easy thing to say is, ‘We can’t do it,’” Fennell said. “But, I think the community expects you to do it.”
Fennell also said, since the plans were initially drawn, it is possible that costs have risen 20-25 percent to fund the project.
Some on the council agreed that spending $50,000 to $100,000 a year isn’t going to get the project done as quickly as most would like.
“We may have to look at some creative ways to fund this project,” alderwoman Jeannie Fischer said.
In the interim, Fennell said he would work with interim community development director Mike Packer and would put together some estimates on the cost of the ground-level structural renovations as well as the installation of a sprinkler system, which he said generally costs about $2 per square foot, meaning the city could expect to spend around $80,000 on the system.
In other news from the June 16 meeting, the council:
• Approved spending $375 to fund extra porta-potties for the July 5 Firefall concert at Pageant Hill. The city agreed to the expenditure with the understanding that if any extra revenue is made from the concert it will be reimbursed.
• Moved to surplus and advertise for bids for the old liquor store at the intersection of Hwys. 16 and 385. Once the walk-in coolers are moved from the west side of the building in the next couple of weeks, the building will have only three walls, and the city has no intention of putting up a wall. Rather, the public can submit bids to either salvage the building or to have the city pay them to tear it down. Either way, the building will be gone in the not too distant future.
• Approved paying $1,600 to Ness Stump Grinding to grind up to 100 stumps at the cemetery. The stumps are constantly catching snowplows and are a burden for the cemetery caretakers, who have to weed-eat around all of them.
• Approved a special malt beverage license for Frontier Bar & Grill to serve beer at the Firefall concert July 5.
• Approved, and then rescinded, a request by the Gold Discovery Days committee pertaining to closure of part of the road on S. 4th Street for the arts and crafts fair that takes place every year. After the council voted to initially pass the request, city attorney Chris Beesley raised questions about just how much of the road the committee is asking to close.
“It concerns me the way it is written,” he said.
The council later decided to seek clarification as to how much of the road the committee seeks to have closed.
• Approved the first reading of a new ordinance that deals with commercial refuse collections. The ordinance states that all companies must pay a $25 fee per year for each vehicle that is picking up trash, and the council later agreed each vehicle will need a sticker, which the city will provide, that shows the vehicle is licensed in the city. The ordinance also states that the vehicles have to be painted at regular intervals “so as to be kept in a sanitary” condition and to identify the hauler, and that the vehicles have to be washed and sanitized weekly May through September and biweekly October through April.
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