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‘We should probably continue’

July 30, 2019 by Brian Jopek


On July 25, the Lake Tomahawk Town Board, meeting in special session, accepted the bid of nearly $284,000 from a Rhinelander construction firm for an addition to the Raymond F. Sloan Community Center. 

Originally, on July 10 the town board approved a bid from Gregory Builders of Lake Tomahawk to construct the 900-square-foot town office addition. 

That bid was for $200,325 and with $50,000 in engineering fees from MSA Professional Services, the project’s cost would be well below a total cost estimate of $387,000 MSA’s Al Szymanski had provided. 

The town received four other bids aside from the Gregory Builders, which shortly after the July 10 meeting, withdrew its bid. 

At the special meeting July 25, the town board voted 2-1 to go with the next lowest bidder, Teschendorf and Shrock of Rhinelander, which had submitted a bid of $283,900. 

The MSA fees would push the final project cost to around $350,000, still within the cost estimate of nearly $390,000 Szymanski provided the town last year. 

The vote in November was to allow the town to spend up to $420,000 on the project.

The possibility of a “change in plan” from what was decided July 10 wasn’t something one could really say was unexpected. 

Two days after the town board had originally approved the Gregory bid, town chairman George DeMet said because Szymanski had some questions about that bid, everything was sent to the town’s attorney, Greg Harrold, for his review.

DeMet said at that time, he might have to call a special meeting and there was a chance the town would have to go with the next lowest bidder. 

Last week’s meeting in the town office at the Sloan was that special meeting DeMet referred to.

However, it wasn’t simply a case of holding a quick meeting to decide whether or not to go with the next lowest bidder.

There was a nearly 30-minute long discussion before the vote, which, unlike the July 10 meeting, wasn’t unanimous. 



Old bank available

The history of this latest Sloan building addition goes back to April 2018, when DeMet first brought up the idea at a town board meeting. 

By late November, there were drawings and information presented to the public at a meeting of electors where the vote was to authorize the town to proceed with obtaining bids.

Over the course of the past several weeks, the town’s old bank building, which had most recently housed the now defunct Pizza Vault on State Highway 47 right in the middle of Lake Tomahawk’s business district, had become available.

On July 25, DeMet said it had been suggested recently the town buy that building and have its town offices there instead of in a new addition to the Sloan.

The availability of the old bank building was what drove the discussion last week.



‘The only pro’

DeMet convened the meeting and gave the floor to Steve Forrest, a member of the town’s planning commission. 

“I cannot see us throwing away that money,” he said. “$190,000, $200,000 or more. We have other needs in town. I know we budgeted money for it already. Unfortunately, I missed those meetings ... I really should have attended, slap my wrist for that. I should have been more involved.”

Forrest said he never would have approved $425,000 for the addition. 

“I never would have approved $300,000 for that building,” he said. “Being in the construction industry, I know what construction should run and $300 a square foot is way, way more than what anyone should pay for even commercial buildings.”

Forrest said he believed the town had itself in a situation where the bids were set up in a way the price would be higher than it should.

He mentioned the Pizza Vault building as a possibility, which DeMet acknowledged he’d looked at. 

“We’re talking $10,000 maybe another $15,000 in remodeling,” Forrest said, adding he was simply going with his construction industry experience. “I’m guessing it wouldn’t in any way exceed $25,000.”

He acknowledged the taxpayers had approved it at the November electors meeting. 

“Which is great,” Forrest said. “But, if we could save that money and spend it ... on something else in the town. That’s my feeling.”

DeMet asked supervisor Larry Hoffman what he thought and Hoffman said he had it “from a good source” the owner of the Pizza Vault building would sell it for in the neighborhood of $150,000. 

“Like Steve said, if we bought it for $150,000 and put, you know, so we maybe would have $180,00 in it, that’s only $78 a square foot,” he said. “That’s a hell of a good building. The electrical’s sound. The only thing I hate about that building is the stuff that was left behind.”

DeMet said he had a list of pros and cons to buying the bank building. 

“The bank, the pros are cost,” he said. “That’s the only pro I came up with.”

At the top of his list of “cons,” DeMet felt it wasn’t the conception voters had in November when the decision was made. 

Another of his “cons” was if the town purchased the bank building, it would be removed from the tax rolls.

“We have no idea what the utility and maintenence costs for that building might be,” DeMet said. “And it’s not an ideal space for what we have. The whole idea of hiring an architect was to get the design we wanted for our offices and attach it to the community center that’s already here that people come to.”

He said he felt if there was to be a town facility, then everything should be under one roof, as is outlined in the current plans from Szymanski. 

“The design of the new office is exactly what we need,” DeMet said. “The design of the bank building is not what we need, but it could be remodeled at some cost ... that is yet to be determined.”

It wouldn’t cost a lot to maintain the new addition, either, he argued.



‘We’ve gotten this far’

There was nearly 20 more minutes of discussion, DeMet holding his position in defense of construction of the new addition and Hoffman not fond at all of the square footage cost for the addition — nearly $340 compared to almost $80 to remodel the bank building. 

“That’s outrageous,” he said. 

Hoffman also brought up a counterpoint to DeMet’s about the bank building taken off the tax roles if the town bought it; if that was done and there wouldn’t be something like another restaurant going in, that would mean less competition for other businesses.

By that time, DeMet had made a motion to accept the Teschendorf and Schrock bid. 

He didn’t get a second right away and it was clear he wasn’t going to get one from Hoffman. 

DeMet then turned to the town’s other supervisor, Stephanie Sowatzka, who hadn’t said anything during the discussion. 

“I think it would be nice to have everything all under one roof,” she said. “I also think the bank building is a kind of cool idea as well. I’m torn, but we’ve gotten this far so I think we should probably continue.”

“You’re willing to second that motion, then?” DeMet asked. 

“Yes,” Sowatzka said, quietly. 

With Hoffman dissenting, the motion passed. 

After the meeting, DeMet was asked how soon he expected Teschendorf and Schrock to begin work.

“As soon as they can,” he said. 

Brian Jopek may be reached via email at [email protected]

 

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