Earthwork bid a no-go for sports center fields

MARSHALL – Members of the Marshall City Council learned Tuesday that not all was going as expected for a planned softball complex at the regional amateur sports center in town. For a second time, earthwork bids for the fields came in significantly overbudget. Council members voted to reject the bids, while holding on to several other construction bid packages for further review.

Bids for construction of the softball field complex had a poor showing in May, with only one or two bidders for each of the seven contract packages, including items like earthworks, electrical utilities, fencing, irrigation and landscaping. At that time, city council members had voted to reject the bids and re-bid in June, hoping the timing would work out better for contractors. The city received the new bid packages June 19.

This time, said Marshall Public Works Director Glenn Olson, “We had several bids on seven different bid packages.” However, the apparent low bid for earthwork, at $1.45 million, was substantially higher than estimated for the project, he said. While the new bid was lower than the $2 million earthwork bid the city rejected in May, Olson said it was still high enough that it could jeopardize the other bid contracts.

“What we’re hearing is that (earthwork) contractors are extremely busy,” said David Maroney of architectural firm ATSR. The high level of demand has an effect on the bids contractors make, he said.

Project manager Mark Hovelson recommended that the city reject the earthwork bids. Olson said other bid packages for the ballfield project, including concrete, electrical, irrigation and landscaping, could be held for further review for up to 60 days, while a decision on how to move forward is made. One possibility would be to see whether the apparent low bidders would be willing to hold bids for the spring 2015 construction season.

Council members voted unanimously to reject the earthwork bid. No further action on the remaining bid packages was taken Tuesday night.

In other business, council members heard an update from members of the Marshall-Lyon County Library Board on their decision to leave the Plum Creek Regional Library System.

Reading from prepared remarks, acting MLCL board president Gwen Sturrock told the council that “This is a definite challenge in the short term.” However, she said she hoped in the long term MLCL would be able to offer stronger service to patrons, with ensured local autonomy.

MLCL has remained open and is serving patrons, Sturrock said. The library is in the process of establishing its own computer catalog and automation system and will be working to try and get access to statewide interlibrary loan services. Sturrock said MLCL representatives have received both positive and negative feedback from the public on the decision.

However, she said, “There is still uncertainty with the county,” in whether Lyon County would still be willing or able to contribute funding to MLCL. The county is required by law to contribute a minimum maintenance of effort toward libraries in the Plum Creek system. At a past MLCL meeting, county representatives had put that amount at more than $200,000 per year. It would be challenging for the county to contribute additional money to MLCL, they had said.

Sturrock acknowledged there would be challenges to work out.

“We would ask that the city and the county work together to preserve the library,” she said.

Marshall City Attorney Dennis Simpson said he, Marshall City Administrator Ben Martig and Lyon County Attorney Rick Maes would be meeting today to discuss some of the possible legal issues to work out in the library’s transition. Martig said there are complex issues surrounding the decision to leave Plum Creek, and emphasized that it would be important to take time to clarify those issues.

Council member Glenn Bayerkohler said he appreciated the efforts of MLCL to try and address their concerns about keeping local control of the library. However, he had concerns about the “back-and-forth decision making” that seemed to go into the board’s votes first to stay with and then to leave Plum Creek. Was MLCL really prepared to make more than $200,000 worth of cuts, if it had to?

Sturrock said she hoped it didn’t come to that.

“That’s one-third of our budget,” she said. “It would be a hard budget cut to make.”

In terms of the board’s decision-making process, she said MLCL had received additional information after the first vote, which led board members to decide staying in Plum Creek would not be better for the library.

Council member John DeCramer asked that MLCL provide more information about the split for the public. The issues between MLCL and Plum Creek were complex, DeCramer said, and he had heard a lot of misunderstanding about them.

“We know we need to continue articulating that to the public,” Sturrock said.

Tuesday also marked the first official day of work for Scott Monson, the new superintendent of Marshall Public Schools. Monson attended the council meeting and introduced himself to council members.

Monson comes to the Marshall School District from the Morris Public School District, where he had served as superintendent.

Monson told the council that his first order of business as Marshall superintendent will be to familiarize himself with the local schools and staff.

“There are a lot of unique collaborative opportunities” in the district for both students and staff, Monson said. He said it will be exciting to work with them.