Not a fair share

Not a fair share By David Lias The idea seemed so simple � at first.

Welfl Construction, the contractor in charge of the new University of South Dakota Medical School Building project, needs access to the current structure, located at the corner of Dakota and Clark streets.

On Dec. 6, the Vermillion City Council granted a request by Kevin Schulz, a representative of the construction firm, to remove on-street parking on the boulevards that surround the south, east and north sides of the building � namely Cedar, Harvard and Clark streets � until the summer of 2007.

The city also granted the contractor permission to use one-third of the street adjoining the building project for its construction trailers and vehicles.

The plan began to unravel, however, when it came time for the city, USD and Welfl to jointly approve the permit allowing the contractor to place his equipment on the street.

Today, it appears that the construction company's access to the building site could only grow more difficult and complicated as the work progresses.

With no permit, the city has been forced to take back what it granted earlier. As of Tuesday, Welfl no longer is allowed to park its equipment on Cedar, Harvard and Clark streets.

The permit drafted by the city contained 15 conditions and restrictions. Welfl Construction will not accept two of them.

One calls for Welfl and USD to accept responsibility for damage to the pavement, curb and above-ground public and private utilities caused by Welfl and its subcontractors.

The other states that the city, Welfl and USD will accept joint equal responsibility for failure of underground public and private utilities for up to a year after the company's equipment has left the area.

Mayor Dan Christopherson noted that the city would not be asking Welfl to be responsible for damage it didn't cause. In the interest of taxpayers and property owners living along the affected streets, he said it is only fair that the construction firm accept some liability for any damage it may cause.

Christopherson added that both USD and the city found the "joint equal responsibility" provision acceptable. Welfl, however, disagrees.

Turn to Permit on Page 10

City officials have been in contact with the state engineer's office, and the office of the state attorney general, hoping to reveal another method for liability of damages to be covered, such as a 50-50 agreement between the city and the state.

Both of those state offices informed the city, USD and Welfl that the contractor must participate in any liability agreement.

Welfl's refusal to accept the permit's provisions forced City Engineer Bill Welk to make the following recommendations:

* Restore parking on the north side of Clark Street.

* Either restore the parking on the north side of Cedar Street and the west of Harvard Street, or enforce the no parking for all vehicles.

* Enforce the truck route ordinance that will require all truck traffic to and from the site to enter and exit onto Dakota Street, which is a designated truck route, and not use Cedar, Harvard or Clark streets.

Michael Allen, associate vice president, facilities, at USD, told the city council Monday that the university still maintains that no parking be allowed on the three streets surrounding the construction project.

"We still have security and safety concerns in the construction area, regardless of other activity that the contractor may or may not do on that street," he said.

Allen added that, effective Tuesday morning, the contractor was granted permission to move its equipment to the university parking lot located at the corner of Harvard and Clark streets.

City Attorney Jim McCulloch informed the city council that it has the decision-making power to rule on parking on city streets by resolution, regardless of a permit.

He said a valiant effort was made to try to come up with an agreement that would suit Welfl.

"Negotiations broke down," he said. "There were many different ideas floated about, and the city and USD did an admirable job of being flexible in trying to come up with every possible objection the contractor might have, and it just didn't work out."

McCulloch also noted that without the permit, city ordinances would allow construction crews to unload materials only from Dakota Street for no longer than 30 minutes for each load.

"I'm sure this would cause hardships not only to the university and the continuing operation of the school of medicine," Allen said, "but also it would create some decent congestion on Dakota Street itself. There is an awful lot of material going in and out of that site."

Allen noted that the city is planning to eventually widen Dakota Street.

"There is a potential to having to close Dakota Street, meaning that truck route goes away," he said. "I would imagine that then the city would have to provide an alternative route to the site."

Dakota Street is on the west side of the current medical school building. The construction is currently taking place on the east side.

Without a permit, even cement trucks will be limited only to a truck route, mainly Dakota Street. City Finance Officer Mike Carlson said cement trucks would have to deliver concrete to the current construction area by exiting Dakota Street directly onto the construction site, without using any of the streets surrounding the medical school to save wear and tear on streets and utilities.

"They will have to get a permit to put another driveway in there, so they can enter there," Carlson said.

"It just seems if the contractor would agree to be responsible for the damage they may or may not cause, we wouldn't have this issue," Christopherson said, "and they continue to not want to be responsible. It's going to be tougher and tougher for them to work on that site."

The city council agreed with Allen's request. It let its earlier ruling, prohibiting parking on the streets surrounding the med school building, remain in force.

Alderman Drake Olson clearly was frustrated with the lack of progress on this issue.

"The new med school is great for USD, it's great for Vermillion, it's great for everybody," he said. "But the city has a liability to its taxpayers as well, and we can't have any potential wear and tear (caused by the contractor) to be supported just by ourselves."

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