The Lansing Town Board Wednesday voted 4-1 to move forward with issuing a Request For Proposals (RFP) to renovate the Town Highway Department building. In February Highway Superintendent Charlie Purcell said that that upgrading the 51 year old building has been under discussion for the past dozen years, and something has to be done for the building to catch up to current demands. He estimated the project may cost between $2.5 and $4 million. Councilman Joseph Wetmore said Wednesday that he doesn’t want to commit to new major projects during the period of uncertainty due to coronavirus restrictions and its impact on municipal budgets.
“I don’t think we’re going to be ready to do the engineering work that we need to really hold back on doing projects that are optional right now,” Wetmore said. “Putting out an RFP at this point and saying to all these architectural firms, we’re planning on hiring somebody in six months when I don’t feel like we’re going to be ready — they’re the ones we’re leading along. I think we need to do this when we know we’re ready to move forward.”
The Town is considering the project because the existing building is inadequate for tasks the Highway Department does now, that were not conceived of 50 years ago. Purcell says that mechanicals are outdated, electrical panels are full, administrative areas are substandard, and the department is simply out of space for the modern equipment and tasks it is now responsible for. He also notes that during the winter ice forms inside the building.
Wetmore sent an email to his fellow board members a week before Wednesday’s meeting, cautioning that uncertainty about how long coronavirus restrictions will be imposed could mean a significant hit to the Town’s budget. He said that Ithaca’s Mayor Svante Myrick told him that the city is cutting projects because of the impact of the pandemic.
“He told me that the City Comptroller estimates that Ithaca is going to face a budget shortfall of between 12% and 20% as a result of the coronavirus crisis,” Wetmore wrote. “Ithaca has already shelved some of the street and bridge repair projects in preparation for this shortfall. Svante said that the city is going to have to cut things they never imagined they would have to cut in order to balance the budget. While Lansing enjoys a better financial status than the City of Ithaca at this time, we still must be proactive and take the time to examine how this crisis will affect our budget.”
Lansing Director of Planning C.J. Randall explained that the firms’ marketing departments typically respond to RFPs in the hopes of eventually getting a contract, and that they don’t have an expectation that the project is necessarily imminent. She explained that there is no charge to the municipality for the responses, and no obligation to choose a firm or even go forward with the project.
Councilman Doug Dake, who co-owns a local contracting firm said that asking firms to respond to an RFP is not ‘leading them on’, explaining that by the time the responses come back and the Town is ready to consider actually doing the work, the COVID-19 restrictions may already be lifted. Dake estimated that the earliest the project could be ready for construction would be next Fall. He said putting out an RFP now is ‘getting our ducks in a row to allow the process to begin.
“That’s the way business works in construction. We get jobs all the way up to the 11th hour and all of a sudden we were told, no, you can’t do it. Yeah, we’re disappointed, and yeah we’re upset we didn’t make money on the bidding process, but that’s the way it is in this business. So I don’t think we’re leading anyone on. And I don’t think we’re wasting our time at this point to try to get this process in motion, because the process prior to this even getting built is probably as long or longer than the process of building.”
LaVigne polled the Board. Most members were for gathering information, especially because it doesn’t cost or commit the Town to spending money on the project.
“I’m just trying to take baby steps,” said Lansing Supervisor Ed LaVigne. “Like C.J. says, we can say ‘no thank you’ at any time. But also if you look at this now, in the next few months it also gives an idea of whether this sustainable. I rely on Doug a lot on this — because this is his realm — to ask for his guidance in this project. And once again, there’s no financial obligation for us to move forward.”
The Board voted 4-1 to put out the RFP, with Wetmore voting no.