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Ranshaw House renovation moves forward

NL council approves bid after reductions
Forty-five carved and lit pumpkins sit on display, as the snow falls near sunset, in front of the historic Ranshaw House, in North Liberty, on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019, for a unique first-time Halloween event. Phase Two of the renovation of the historic home begins shortly after the City Council approved a $420,000 contract, with $32,000 in deductions, from Wolfe Contracting, Inc., of Muscatine.

NORTH LIBERTY– Phase Two of the renovation of the historic Ranshaw House, in North Liberty, was granted the green light Tuesday, Sept. 8, as the North Liberty City Council approved a bid from Wolfe Contracting, Inc., of Muscatine.
Wolfe initially had the low bid of $420,000 when three bids were opened on Wednesday, Aug. 19, and presented to the council for consideration on Tuesday, Aug. 25. McComas-Lacina Construction bid $527,000 and Tricon General Construction, Inc. bid $561,000. During the Aug. 25 meeting, Alan Wieskamp with Shive-Hattery Architecture and Engineering expressed his disappointment in the bids, which came in much higher than the $343,672 his firm estimated. The city signed a $48,000 contract with Shive-Hattery in May for design, bidding and construction services to finish the work on the historic house, built in 1908 and acquired by the city in 2004.
At the Aug. 25 meeting, Wieskamp told the council he was looking for anomalies to explain the bids coming in higher and already discovered a painting contractor was factoring in mitigation and abatement of lead paint.
“Most of the lead paint is already concealed,” he said, adding such measures were not required for the project.
Wieskamp also promised to work with the bidders to seek any possible reductions and noted Wolfe, which handled the Phase 1 work, expressed interest in working with him to such end. A vote to accept the low bid from Wolfe with change orders for the reductions was tabled as council member Brent Smith voiced concerns over approving a contract needing revision.
On Sept. 8, the subject was removed from the table (reopened for discussion) with a motion made to accept the bid from Wolfe.
The $32,000 in cost reductions were found as Wolfe worked with Shive-Hattery and city staff. Among the changes are $13,485.70 in reductions from subcontractor JR Painting and Decorating, Inc., of Coralville, and deducting $7,200 for demolition, approximately 30 percent less of the existing siding. Also, the city will supply interior trim, acquired from another local house, to Wolfe for a $9,300 deduction, and a $10,123.17 deduction from JR Painting (materials and finishing).
Wolfe’s $420,000 bid will be amended via a series of change orders reflecting the $32,000 in deductions, said City Administrator Ryan Heiar.
Heiar pointed out, “This is what we were going to do regardless of tabling this (last month). You might recall we did this with the police station project. We went back and did similar work, so whether we tabled it or not, this work was going to be done, we were going to come back with this deduct.”
Wieskamp added, “For due diligence, we went through line-by-line with Wolfe to understand where he came from with his numbers. And to be honest, he was very forthcoming and explained where they all came from, and I am content we are getting a pretty good deal with these numbers.”
Council member Chris Hoffman asked for a timeline on the start of the work and asked when the house will be usable.
Wieskamp said Wolfe has a crew finishing a large project with the Iowa City Community School District ready and willing to jump on it.
“This has been such a long time coming for this home, for this city, for this project,” said Hoffman. “I couldn’t be happier that we’re about to get this underway and finally let this home be usable to the city in a lot of different capacities.”
“This has been an incredibly expensive project,” said Council member Smith. “And in my opinion, one that had we been able to look into the crystal ball and see what it was going to cost in the end, probably should never have started in the first place. It feels like we’re over the edge and we can’t turn back.”
Initial plans were to demolish the structure to provide more parking for the recreation center, but public outcry led to the city chipping away at preserving the house with an eye toward converting it into a multi-use facility.
The house was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.
“I agree with you (Hoffman) that it’s more than time to have this thing start producing something for us for the cost that’s gone into it,” Smith said. He asked Wieskamp and Heiar about signage, “So we can really capture the true history, and be able to showcase that.”
Heiar said there’s been internal discussions among city staff, but noted currently there is no set plan to do so.
“Hopefully we can find some grant funding for that, but we haven’t made any movement on it,” Heiar said.
“Having contention with the cost of the project should not take away from the beauty and the history that comes with the home and the property, and I would hope we can really showcase that now,” said Smith.
Council member RaQuishia Harrington agreed with Smith, saying, “I think it’s very important we showcase that history aspect of it, because of the time and effort that has gone into this, and not to forget how costly it is. Being here for 13 going on 14 years and seeing that house sitting there, and I think every year I’ve been asking ‘what are we going to do with it?’ along with other people in the community. I think it is past time for some kind of activity or utilization of the house to happen.”
Harrington said it is unfortunate the work is coming at a higher cost than anticipated.
Council member Brian Wayson pointed out part of the cost was for the paved parking lot, a project he said should’ve been done long ago, and noting it was an expense which would’ve been incurred sooner or later.
“You don’t often get a chance to save history,” Wayson said, “So much in North Liberty is pretty new, and I think you try to keep a little of something that was there when North Liberty really started out, and I think that’s important.”