Members of the Woodstock City Council took issue with a city staff request for almost $70,000 to pay a Peoria-based contractor to perform emergency repairs to the city’s historic Opera House windows.
The job was not publicly bid out by the city and staff opted to ask the council to award the contract without a second proposal on the cost of work, which involves restoring and repairing the Opera House’s 40- to 50-year-old windows and environmental remediation because of the presence of asbestos in the building, officials said.
“We want to avoid these kinds of situations and be proactive,” Mayor Mike Turner said at the council meeting. “If we’d assessed them a year ago, we’d be able to bid them out and get competitive pricing without the risk of damage. So it is a fair question to say why wasn’t this assessment done in the last one to two years.”
City officials noticed six windows were in need of urgent repairs during a wider checkup on the state of the building, and the city staff is in the process of developing a larger scope of work to improve and maintain the Opera House.
But the late realization the windows would need to be replaced this year or risk damage during the winter – including possibly needing the Opera House to be boarded up – was in part the result of a restructuring of city staff, City Manager Roscoe Stelford said.
The city in recent years moved away from keeping a dedicated Opera House building manager on the staff. Now, the city instead has a facilities team in charge of keeping all the city’s buildings in good states of repair, not just the Opera House.
“Without having a dedicated staff member in that one building, checking it all the time, may be the downside to that approach,” Stelford said.
But for now, there is just one staff member on the citywide facilities team, which Public Works Director Christina Betz told the council she plans bulk up with more employees so it could be proactive instead of reactive to problems encountered in city buildings.
Turner said it would have been a smoother process had the Opera House inspection that uncovered the poor state of the windows taken place a year to two years ago, so there would have been time to issue a request for proposals and potentially get more that one opinion on the cost of the work.
Council member Tom Nierman pointed out there could have been a chance to hire a contractor based somewhere within or closer to the McHenry County area than Peoria, as the contract includes costs for travel time.
Betz said the work on the Opera House windows is specialized and unique because of the structure’s historic nature, and the city staff decided to award the job to the business that performed the assessment of the entire Opera House.
The council ultimately voted unanimously to approve the contract for the repairs, despite the concerns raised with the process.
Once the city is ready to start work on revamping other parts of the Opera House, those later jobs will be awarded through a competitive bidding process.
“We were aware the windows were old, and it was a project we needed to do. We pushed it probably a little too far. It was a balancing act, and we didn’t quite get the balancing act right,” Assistant City Manager and Finance Director Paul Christensen said.