Posted 10/06/15 (Tue)
By Kevin Killough
Two major renovation projects, one run by the City of Tioga and the other by Tioga Medical Center, are butting up against each other in the final weeks of the building season.
The hospital’s tentative Oct. 15 opening date for the new expansion is only adding to the pressure.
At a special meeting two weeks ago, the Tioga Commission reviewed plans to address two problems that came up in the reconstruction of North Main Street.
At some point before construction began, the road design was lowered from previous plans. As a result, a mobile MRI lab truck that needs to use the North Main Street access to the hospital is not going to have enough underside clearance.
Additionally, a culvert that was built by the hospital alongside the road is 15 feet inside the city’s easement.
The commission took no action on the project at the meeting and will be conducting further meetings in the coming days to resolve the issues.
In a letter drafted in September from the hospital board to the commission, the hospital board said the road “appears to have been lowered from our plans that were drawn out by the same engineers engaged by the city.”
The hospital expansion and North Main Street reconstruction project both use Ackerman-Estvold as the projects’ engineers.
The original plans for the road satisfied underside clearances for mobile equipment the hospital uses, but at some point during the construction, the road was designed lower than the original plans.
No one is certain why this was done, when, or who approved it.
That’s “a question brought up numerous times,” said Mayor Drake McClelland.
It appears the lowering of the road occurred sometime before the bidding process.
Rob Stoltz, operations manager for JR Civil — the contractor for the Main Street reconstruction project — said the company built the road according to the designs the company bid on, and the height of the road was never changed from those plans.
Stoltz was not at the commission meeting but spoke afterward, saying he is aware of the disagreements between the hospital and the city but the company just followed the designs they bid on.
“We’re stuck in the middle,” Stoltz said.
Whatever the reasoning behind the design changes, the hospital was not aware of it until recently. When the company that owns the MRI truck saw the plans, they determined the road would not meet the needed underside clearance for the truck.
John Schumacher, senior civil engineer for Ackerman-Estvold, presented the commission with a plan he developed using special software to make modifications to the road so the MRI truck, as well as passenger cars entering and exiting the hospital parking lot, would not bottom out.
Commissioner Heather Weflen suggested the road be built back up to the higher elevations as the hospital and city originally expected, but McClelland said that plan would require moving tons of dirt and is infeasible.
“I feel like we’re compromising on this issue when we shouldn’t be,” Weflen said. “It should be done how we wanted it.”
Speaking after the meeting, Commissioner John Grubb suggested coordination between the hospital and Main Street reconstruction projects broke down over the past couple years as mergers and personnel changes occurred.
AmeriTech, which was bought out by Ackerman, was the original engineer working on the projects, and Schumacher was not originally overseeing them.
The lack of information is of concern for Tioga resident Jeff Spivey, who works for the Tioga Police Department but spoke at the meeting as a concerned resident.
“Where did it go wrong?” Spivey asked. “Who screwed up that this is required now? Who made the mistake, sir?”
Schumacher attributed the problem to a miscommunication between the planning for the hospital expansion and the North Main Street reconstruction.
“I think there was a lack of coordination.” Schumacher said.
Grubb agreed the coordination is lacking.
“There seems to be some gap between the two projects,” Grubb said.
As of press time, Schumacher didn’t return calls requesting further comment on the engineering firm’s role, if any, in the issues.
Right of way
The issues don’t end with the height of the road. The hospital built a culvert 15 feet inside the city easement.
The hospital board mentioned the culvert in the letter to the commission, saying it is contaminated with dirt from the roadway project.
Ackerman-Estvold developed a solution to the problem that would direct runoff from hospital site while still allowing for the new position of the culvert.
The solution is estimated to cost $13,800, but the hospital maintains it built the culvert according to specifications the city provided and shouldn’t be held accountable for any additional costs.
“We want to work with the city to try to fix it, but we feel we did what we’re supposed to do,” said Ryan Mickelsen, CFO for the hospital.
David Rust, who sits on the hospital board and was not at the special meeting, said he looked at designs with the hospital expansion contractor, Shingobee, and was shown the culvert is right where the plans showed it should be.
Grubb suggested sharing the responsibility for the repairs with the hospital, though the proposal is only a suggestion and not an official action by the city.
In the letter, the hospital board rejected the proposal, arguing they built it according to plans the city engineers approved.
During the meeting, City Auditor Abby Salinas pointed out the hospital is part of the community as much as the city, and the two entities should be discussing solutions in joint meetings.
“We need to sit together and take care of business,” Salinas said.
Rust expressed the same desire for the two entities to meet and come up with a solution.
“My opinion is the hospital and the city should not be fighting and should be working together,” Rust said. “That’s the way you iron things out.”
He also stressed the need for discussions and solutions to be carried out with “factual information.”
Mickelsen said he holds no animosity toward the city over the situation and would be happy to discuss solutions with city leaders.
At the meeting, Schumacher said he would be meeting with the company that owns the MRI truck and is confident they would be satisfied with his proposal to address clearance issues.
McClelland said the city commission would be holding a special meeting this week with members of the hospital board, in hopes the problems can be resolved.
“We’re not leaving that meeting until we’re happy, they’re happy, and everyone is happy,” McClelland said.