On July 25, the Lake Tomahawk Town Board of Supervisors, meeting in special session, accepted a bid of nearly $284,000 from a Rhinelander construction firm for an addition to the Raymond F. Sloan Community Center.
Approximately two weeks earlier, on July 10, the town board approved a bid from Gregory Builders of Lake Tomahawk to construct the 900-square-foot town office addition. That bid was for $200,325 and with $50,000 in engineering fees from MSA Professional Services, the project's cost was expected to be well below a total cost estimate of $387,000 provided by MSA's Al Szymanski. However, the bid was withdrawn shortly after July 10, leaving the town to reconsider the four other bids submitted.
At the special meeting July 25, the town board voted 2-1 to go with the next lowest bidder, Teschendorf and Shrock of Rhinelander, which had submitted a bid of $283,900.
The MSA fees would push the final project cost to around $350,000, still within the cost estimate of nearly $390,000 Szymanski provided to the town last year.
Lake Tomahawk electors voted in November to allow the town to spend up to $420,000 on the project.
The "change in plan" from what was decided July 10 happened relatively quickly.
Two days after the town board approved the Gregory bid, town chairman George DeMet told the Lakeland Times Szymanski had some questions and the bid information was being sent to the town's attorney, Greg Harrold, for review.
DeMet also noted that he might have to call a special meeting and there was a chance the town would have to go with the next lowest bidder.
That's exactly what happened. However, it wasn't simply a case of holding a quick meeting to decide whether or not to go with the next lowest bidder.
There was a nearly 30-minute discussion before the vote which, unlike the July 10 meeting, wasn't unanimous.
Old bank available
The history of this latest Sloan building addition goes back to April 2018, when town chairman DeMet first brought up the idea at a town board meeting.
By late November, there were drawings and information presented to the public at a meeting of electors where the vote was to authorize the town to proceed with obtaining bids.
Over the course of the past several weeks, the town's old bank building, which had most recently housed the now defunct Pizza Vault on State Highway 47 right in the middle of Lake Tomahawk's business district, became available.
On July 25, DeMet said it had been suggested the town buy that building and house its town offices there instead of in a new addition to the Sloan.
The availability of the old bank building was what drove the discussion last week.
'The only pro'
DeMet convened the meeting and gave the floor to Steve Forrest, a member of the town's planning commission.
"I cannot see us throwing away that money," Forrest said. "$190,000, $200,000 or more. We have other needs in town. I know we budgeted money for it already. Unfortunately, I missed those meetings ... I really should have attended, slap my wrist for that. I should have been more involved."
Forrest said he never would have approved $425,000 for the addition.
"I never would have approved $300,000 for that building," he said. "Being in the construction industry, I know what construction should run and $300 a square foot is way, way more than what anyone should pay for even commercial buildings."
Forrest said he believes the town had itself in a situation where the bids were set up in a way the price would be higher than it should.
He mentioned the Pizza Vault building as a possibility, which DeMet acknowledged he'd looked at.
"We're talking $10,000 maybe another $15,000 in remodeling," Forrest said, adding that he was simply going with his construction industry experience. "I'm guessing it wouldn't in any way exceed $25,000."
He acknowledged the taxpayers had approved it at the November electors meeting.
"Which is great," Forrest said. "But, if we could save that money and spend it ... on something else in the town. That's my feeling."
DeMet asked supervisor Larry Hoffman what he thought and Hoffman replied he had it "from a good source" the owner of the Pizza Vault building would sell it for approximately $150,000.
"Like Steve said, if we bought it for $150,000 and put, you know, so we maybe would have $180,000 in it, that's only $78 a square foot," he said. "That's a hell of a good building. The electrical's sound. The only thing I hate about that building is the stuff that was left behind."
DeMet said he had a list of pros and cons to buying the bank building.
"The bank, the pros are cost," he said. "That's the only pro I came up with."
At the top of his list of "cons," was his feeling that buying the bank building would not be in keeping with the conception voters had in November when the decision was made.
Another of his "cons" was the bank building, would be removed from the tax rolls.
"We have no idea what the utility and maintenence costs for that building might be," DeMet said. "And it's not an ideal space for what we have. The whole idea of hiring an architect was to get the design we wanted for our offices and attach it to the community center that's already here that people come to."
He said he felt if there was to be a town facility, then everything should be under one roof, as is outlined in the current plans from Szymanski.
"The design of the new office is exactly what we need," DeMet said. "The design of the bank building is not what we need, but it could be remodeled at some cost ... that is yet to be determined."
It wouldn't cost a lot to maintain the new addition, either, he argued.
'We've gotten this far'
There discussion continued for approximately 20 more minutes with DeMet holding his position in defense of construction of the new addition and Hoffman not fond at all of the square footage cost for the addition - nearly $340 compared to almost $80 to remodel the bank building.
"That's outrageous," he said.
Hoffman also brought up a counterpoint to DeMet's point about the bank building beingtaken off the tax roles.
If the town buys the building another restaurant would not be able to go in, which would mean less competition for other businesses, he said.
By that time, DeMet had made a motion to accept the Teschendorf and Schrock bid.
He didn't get a second right away and it was clear he wasn't going to get one from Hoffman.
DeMet then turned to the town's other supervisor, Stephanie Sowatzka, who hadn't said anything during the discussion.
"I think it would be nice to have everything all under one roof," she said. "I also think the bank building is a kind of cool idea as well. I'm torn, but we've gotten this far so I think we should probably continue."
"You're willing to second that motion, then?" DeMet asked.
"Yes," Sowatzka said, quietly.
With Hoffman dissenting, the motion passed.
After the meeting, DeMet was asked how soon he expected Teschendorf and Schrock to begin work.
"As soon as they can," he said.
Brian Jopek may be reached via email at email@example.com.
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