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Tiffin City Hall expansion to be completed in 2017

Council divided on hiring of Woodruff Construction

TIFFIN– A recently installed LED sign greeting visitors to the City of Tiffin should be flanked by another addition to city hall by year’s end.
At a meeting Tuesday, Aug. 1, the Tiffin City Council agreed to hire Woodruff Construction LLC, a Tiffin general contractor that built the current structure, to take on the expansion project for $139,400.
“We appreciate the opportunity to continue our support of the City of Tiffin and its incredible growth,” Nick Ford, Woodruff’s east region president, wrote to City Administrator Doug Boldt in a memo July 27.
The floor plan includes an additional 1,280 square feet, including three offices, a mechanical room, storage space and a 286-square-foot conference room. The expansion, to be built west of the building at 300 Railroad St., will also slightly change the configuration of the women’s restroom and convert two existing offices into three smaller ones. More solar panels could be added to the west roof in the future.
“It’s been a fun process, a nice evolution,” said Justin Bishop, of OPN Architects in Cedar Rapids, who did the design work. “We’ll continue to work with Doug and refine any other tweaks we need to do as we pull things together here toward the end.”
However, Woodruff nearly wasn’t awarded the project, as council members debated whether to put it out for bid.
According to state regulations in the Iowa Code, a city with a population of less than 50,000 must follow bidding procedures for vertical infrastructure costing $135,000 or more. The publication requirement is a minimum 13 days and maximum 45 days.
“I’d love to see them do this. I hope they get the bid,” said council member Peggy Upton. “I understand we’re $100 under the threshold, but I think we should put it out for bid and give everybody the opportunity.”
She cited past transparency issues by the council as part of her decision to oppose the award.
“I just think we’ve been working on transparency for a long time and we need to keep doing that and not go back to our ways of doing things differently,” she said.
Council member Mike Ryan disagreed, saying the threshold is in place for a reason.
“But if everyone else knew there was a threshold, would they maybe come in a hundred bucks less?” said Upton. “We don’t give anybody else the chance.”
Boldt explained there was no right or wrong answer whether or not to put the project out for bid.
“Just so everybody’s clear, really what this comes down to is the comfort level of the council,” he said. “I don’t want anyone to think we’re picking one company over another.”
He said he’d be willing to get quotes from other companies inside city limits, but Mayor Steve Berner disagreed that was the right course of action.
“I don’t know how you go about handpicking,” he said. “You’d have to publish it. You’re not doing any better than just awarding it.”
Berner said he’d like to see the council award the project to Woodruff, whom he deemed an important citizen of the community.
“We’ve been talking with Woodruff for three months,” he said. “It’s been transparent. It’s been public. It’s been in the minutes.”
Ultimately, the council voted, 3-2, to award the project to Woodruff, with Upton and council member Al Havens in the negative.
Ryan, who flip-flopped on whether or not to go with Woodruff, said the compelling argument for him was that the construction could begin in August.
“I better not see a change order,” said Upton.
“If there’s a change order, it’s not going to get approved,” Havens echoed.
Upton and Havens were also the only council members to ask questions about the building’s design, after Bishop shared a 3D virtual tour of the addition during the Aug. 1 meeting.
The near full-length windows on the south-facing wall of the conference room seemed too dramatic to Upton.
“I really like a lot of light, but they kind of retract from the main entrance,” she said. “It seems you might be drawn to that space as opposed to the main entrance.”
Havens agreed.
“It almost looks like a garage door,” he said.
While neither was opposed to the design, they asked whether or not shorter or fewer windows could be considered.
But Bishop said several options were already considered and that he doubted any visitors would confuse the windows for the main entrance. He explained the natural light is a huge benefit to the conference room as well as the remainder of the addition, which boasts a lot of glass.
“Instead of having meetings in here (council chambers), a lot of business will be done in that room,” he countered. “Think about it from the inside, how it seems to whoever is in there having a meeting.”
He said the idea is that the conference room could be functional after hours, while access to the remainder of the facility would be locked.
Boldt said shortening the windows would not be a problem, but added he likes how they help the building stand out.
“We just had them as big as we could to have as much natural light coming in there was we could,” he said. “There’s nothing magic about it.”
Woodruff has promised to use materials identical or similar to the existing building, both on the exterior and interior. Ford said the company will also coordinate with building staff during the remodel.