BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Once again, some Fort Madison city officials are upset with the performance of engineers on a city project.
At Tuesday’s regular City Council meeting Fort Madison mayor Matt Mohrfeld took issue with a change order on work being done at the rail passenger platform that will be part of the Amtrak depot relocation in Riverview Park.
The City Council approved two other change orders, one on the Hwy. 61 2nd to 6th street work for $89,951, and the other on the parking lot work behind City Hall for $17,591. But the platform change order was removed and tabled with a 4-1 vote. Councilwoman Rebecca Bowker voted against the amended item.
That change order of just over $12,000 on the platform drew criticism from Mohrfeld.
Klingner and Associates out of Burlington was the engineer on the platform project, and an existing cement structure has caused a substantial change in materials being used.
“The one at the depot I think is just inexcusable. We had an engineer that walked down there and didn’t put in the plans that concrete structure that was part of the old platform that you could see 500 foot of?”
“It couldn’t be missed. It’s right there. It’s inexcusable. That engineering firm for not taking responsibility for this, should never work for the city.”
Mohrfeld said the change order adds $200,000 to the project due to incompetence from the engineers. He said a dynamic called value added engineering could result in potential savings that could bring the net cost to the city to $12,300, but nothing is guaranteed.
Councilman Rusty Andrews defined value added engineering as the guy in the field doing the work who sees a way to do something at a savings to the project.
“Everything about this is just wrong. This is everything people hate about government. I’m getting wound up and I should. We all should,” Mohrfeld said
Mohrfeld recommended the council push the change order back to City Public Work’s director Mark Bousselot to take back to the engineer and contractor, who Mohrfeld said is also culpable in the matter.
Bowker pushed back and said anyone could have seen that concrete structure there, including city staff, and the project has to keep moving forward.
“Did we see it when we went down there. And we accepted the bid? Did we accept the engineering report?” Bowker asked.
“We saw it, we accepted it, and we went forward with it, and now we’re saying ‘Oh yeah, we saw it too and we didn’t catch it’,” she said.
Mohrfeld said engineers hired by the city act as agents of the city, and he called the work “irresponsible and lazy”.
Mohrfeld said the company bidding the work should have also seen the cement structure as an anomaly with the design.
“Let the engineer and the contractor figure it out,” Mohrfeld said. “Are we just going to stand here and let engineering incompetence and oversight be the norm? This is crazy.”
It’s not the first time city officials have been upset with engineering on the project. When Iowa Bridge and Culvert’s $2.83 million bid on the project came in $1.4 million over Klingner’s estimate, City Manager David Varley said at that time he didn’t understand how so much was missed.
“I realize how difficult it is to work with railroads, but I think engineers would be able to see this stuff, too,” Varley said in a September 2019 Pen City Current article.
The city also had trouble getting workable estimates from HR Green on the current Hwy. 61 project, and on a project to use reimbursement of interest paid on city waste water treatment plant upgrade loans, to redo sidewalks and curbing downtown. That project had to be scrapped because of the bid costs compared to engineering costs.
“I’m not disagreeing that there shouldn’t be some responsibility here, but we’ve been on this project for 15 years, we have to have some personal responsibility that we understand what the project is,” Bowker said.
“We can’t just say we didn’t realize that platform was there.”
Councilman Chad Cangas said the city has been having problems with engineering and this may be the place to draw the line in the sand.
Bowker said maybe the city needs to create oversight for future projects, but Mohrfeld said that creates another layer of government.
Andrews said the city has paid Klingner $380,000 to design the project.
“I don’t think they’re held to a standard. They can design it but the guy in the field has to figure out how to build it. They write up a change order and their tail’s covered and they add 20%,” Andrews said.
Tom Schulz, a contractor in the city, asked Bowker if she had ever designed a platform.
Schulz said the bidding contractor’s job is to look at the job and determine whether the blueprint meets the requirements of the job and if not, they are to write a letter to the engineer outlining the problems and if the contractor misses something that’s on him and not the customer.
“I went down there to look at this myself. This is something you could see from 10,000 feet in an airplane. It’s clearly bad engineering,” he said.
Bowker asked what happens if the change order is delayed. Mohrfeld said it would be his recommendation that Public Works director Mark Bousselot go back to the engineers and contractor and work the issue.
“He doesn’t have the power to rap the gavel on this, but we do,” Mohrfeld said.