Melby abstains, says data is flawed

Melby abstains, says data is flawed By David Lias When the time came for members of the Vermillion City Hall Advisory Committee to individually state their preferences for a new city hall site, Neil Melby chose to abstain.

At the conclusion of the Tuesday night meeting, when the committee chose to recommend demolishing the present city hall structure and building new on its site, he voted no.

Melby claims the data that the committee has been studying the last 17 months and has been sharing with the public is flawed.

He also made a reference to �funny business� conducted by the city and architects during the initial inspection of the city hall building.

The account Melby shared with committee members Tuesday is not correct, according to Robin Miller of the Sioux Falls architectural firm Miller Sellers Heroux, Inc.

�The only thing we have to offer them is an old 2001 number and people are having a problem with that, and let them have a problem with that, because it�s legitimate,� Melby said. �The study that was done in 2001 was flawed, and people kept telling me that and I didn�t believe them so I went to the person that had a direct conversation with the architect and he confirmed that there was funny business going on.�

�What�s this funny business?� Rich Braunstein, chairman of the committee, asked.

�What happened was this architect was called in to determine whether this building could be renovated, which he did, and he presented his findings to the city manager at the time,� Melby said. �The problem is � and this is absolutely true � was that this architect was doing some renovations for another person and told him that the city manager, when he brought in cost figures, said that�s not going to happen because (the figures) make it look like it will be feasible to renovate the building and we want new construction figures to reflect that � which he didn�t do � but he told an interested person that it happened and people lost faith in the system because of that.

�I don�t want to make that a sticking point � all I�m saying is that�s what I keep getting back from the public,� he said.

Jeff Pederson was Vermillion�s city manager at the time.

�That never happened,� Miller said in a phone conversation with the Plain Talk Wednesday morning.

On March 8, 2000, Trent Nelson, a structural engineer, and Miller met with City Engineer Bill Welk regarding the existing city hall structure.

The three men conducted a limited evaluation of the building and its architectural layout.

�The first time we came in we were asked to take a look at the building and give a quick number,� Miller said, �but we said it was not based on an analysis of what is here or a program or a plan. When we started listening to what city hall needed and we evaluated the roof and the structure and mechanical systems, that�s when we realized what condition the existing city hall is in.�

They quickly discovered that the building, he said, doesn�t meet code and isn�t safe.

�From our original ?hip shot� to when we finally evaluated it, that number did change � I don�t remember how much � but nobody told us to do that.�

Melby�s comments, and his refusal to offer input on site selection Tuesday, frustrated several of his colleagues on the committee.

�You should be justifying those comments; you should be telling people how we have discussed this issue,� Nikki Peters, committee member, told Melby, �and how we have dealt with it and the questions they are asking you regarding the information � are you giving the information you have regarding what it is going to cost to bring this up to code?

�Have you discussed that this building does not meet the site requirements alone? It doesn�t meet any of the code requirements. Have you brought any of those things up?� she asked. �I don�t feel you have done enough to discuss things on renovating the current site. I will argue that point until the cows come home � that we have discussed that enough.�

�The public, in my view, is not monolithic,� Braunstein said to Melby, �and while you�re saying that you�re listening to the public, and I respect your need to do that, I heard today, from people who were as clear as bells, on what their preference was. They did not share the information that we did not have enough information. In fact, they felt very clear.�

The estimated costs of renovating city hall began to go up, Miller said, when engineers began taking a closer look at the building�s structural, mechanical and electrical systems.

�All of those systems, together with other code items for ADA became apparent, and that�s when the costs just started to go up,� he said. �It wasn�t because somebody asked us to raise the price; it was because we, in our investigations, discovered or analyzed what needed to be done.�

As far as Melby�s claims of �funny business?�

�I would not play that game,� Miller said. �I would be one of the first people off the scene. Our business was established 15 years ago on personal integrity. What we did was what we thought was fair and honest and ethical.

�We represent the public and life safety issues,� he said. �By code of ethics, we�re required to represent the public and the law.�

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