The Front Page
Common Council Corral:
In marathon meeting, Council authorizes DPW Garage, Youth Bureau $1.2MM additional funding
By John F. Bailey
This week's Common Council coverage is broken into a series of articles reporting the significant events of the historic August 5-6 Common Council meeting which was the longest Common Council meeting ever, according to our research.
CityLine: August 5-6, 2001 -- City Hall
In the longest Council meeting Town Clerk Janice Minieri can ever remember, (7 hours and 40 minutes and adjourning at 3:40 AM, Tuesday morning), the Common Council authorized an additional $1.2 million in bonding for additional expenditures in connection with constructing the new Department of Public Works garage on 75 Brockway Place and renovating Eastview School for the new Youth Bureau opening next month.
Approving the decision at approximately 3:15 AM in the morning, the Council voted unanimously to provide $600 million in bonding to fund extensive construction upgrades on the new Youth Bureau construction at Eastview School. The construction consisted of disabled access ramping and automatic doors mandated by the State Education Department, to the surprise of both the City School District and Public Works Commissioner Joseph Nicoletti.
The Council reluctantly agreed to Department of Public Works Commissioner Joseph Nicoletti's specification for wood and concrete pilings for the new Department of Public Works garage on Brockway Place, for another $600 million, which also included $200,000 for a separate Purchasing Building at 202 Westchester Avenue. Total extra expenditure between the Youth Bureau and the new DPW garage was $1.2 million.
When Commissioner Nicoletti was called to the podium at approximately 3 AM last Tuesday morning to explain the need for the extra funding on the two endeavors, he was scolded by Councilmembers Pauline Oliva and Rita Malmud for the unforeseen expenses.
Malmud and Oliva pointed out that Commissioner Nicoletti had told them the value on the city deal with Bianco & Pep'e (of Scarsdale) that provided Pep'e land on Brockway Place for the new garage in exchange for the city's existing Department of Public Works garage for a new Stop N Shop Supermarket and Westchester One parking facility would not exceed $6.4MM.
Commissioner Nicoletti explained that when piles were drilled to test soil support abilities, it was discovered that the consistency of the soil on Brockway Place would not support the steel pilings planned. Mr. Nicoletti personally felt that wood concrete pilings would be the better long term selection which would add 20 years of life to the new garage.
Nicoletti said soil support samplings would usually have been taken before the cost was determined, but in this case, when the deal was in process, there was no time to make the soil samplings, and that the Bianco & Pep'e firm was not prepared to invest more than the $6.4 million value on the deal, anyway at the time.
As followers of the Stop N Shop vs. Pep'e/Shoprite proposals in the year 2000 will remember, the Council had originally voted in favor of the Stop N Shop proposal which proposed building a public works garage in back of the Stop N Shop.
The Pep'e proposal suggested building the new public works garage on its property on Brockway Place and proposing a Shoprite supermarket and Westchester One parking garage behind the supermarket. The council opted for the Stop N Shop proposal.
At the time there was much talk from the Common Council members about Nicholas Pep'e and Stop N Shop combining their proposals. According to WPCNR observations, Councilpersons Rita Malmud, Pauline Oliva and Robert Greer suggested that Mr. Pep'e and Stop N Shop might explore how the two organizations could marry their two proposals.
Mr. Pep'e and Stop N Shop did meet after Stop N Shop was selected and came to a compromise plan which involved a swap of Stop N Shop land, the City DPW, and a new garage in exchange for the Pep'e property on Brockway Place for the new city DPW garage.
The Youth Bureau would have to move as a result of the demolition of the old Department of Public Works garage, where it is presently housed. After negotiations with the school district, the city received permission to use the ground floor of Eastview School for the new Youth Bureau. The city also understood that the State Education Department would have to approve any redesigns of the school building.
Originally, $400,000 had been earmarked for the Youth Bureau Eastview renovation. However, Mr. Nicoletti told the Common Council that neither he nor the school district ever expected the construction specifications that the State Education Department would demand the city build into the new Youth Bureau wing at Eastview. New York state-mandated changes and other possibilities for the Youth Bureau such as including a 1500 square foot computer room, access to a gymnasium and new rest rooms are approaching $600,000, according to Nicoletti.
The original Pep'e-Stop N Shop proposal executing the three-way swap and build program was approved by the Common Council with the understanding that its value to the city would be $6.4 million, with no costs out of pocket for the city, with Pep'e building the new Department of Public Works garage on Brockway Place and Stop N Shop and the Pep'e firm building the Stop N Shop parking and new Westchester One parking on Stop N Shop land consisting of the Bank of New York Property, the bowling alley and the old City DPW garage.
Two weeks ago, in a work session, Mr. Nicoletti discussed that the city had run into unforeseen out-of-pocket costs on both the Youth Bureau and the new Department of Public Works garage which exceeded the $6.4 million dollar figure by $1.2MM. The Tuesday morning 3 AM vote was to approve bonding for that $1.2MM.
Nicoletti explained that the Department of Education wanted the ground floor to be made completely accessible by the disabled, which required building concrete ramps, special access doors and ramps, replacing internal stairways and accessible bathrooms. Cost of the concrete alone for ramps was an additional $100,000, Nicoletti said. As part of the Youth Bureau renovations, a new computer room was added, and additional wiring and special computer furniture ran this cost up another $150,000. Access doors to a ground floor gymnasium were another expense, he said, that the city felt would enhance the Youth Bureau program significantly.
Pauline Oliva said "I'm not as disturbed about the fact these things are going to be costing more. It's just the way I feel we went about approving the contracts with the Pep'e and Stop N Shop people without a clause specifying either they would pay or we would share in the costs if an overrun occurs. We did a bad job there. All members of the council were under the impression it was an even exchange."
Mayor Joseph Delfino questioned this logic: "It was always an understanding (with Pep'e) that we were getting equal value, the value was $6.4 million. Anything we added on, we would pay for. What would you have them do, give us a blank check? Would you do this (agree to pay cost overruns if you were the contractor)?"
Oliva rejoined: "To end up taking it out of the pockets of the people of the City of White Plains...well when a reporter called me about it (the cost overrun) and I heard your discussion, it was a big surprise to me. It just shocked me."
Rita Malmud weighed in: "What Mrs. Oliva is saying is the expectation was that we were going to replicate the existing facilities...We were told there was a generous contingency fund. When the question of cost overruns came up, and it was we were told not to worry about it. 'Trust me.' 'Don't worry about it.' 'Don't worry about it.'"
Mayor Delfino asked, "What's the difference between a cost overrun and the amenities we added on to the project?"
Malmud said, "that shouldn't have been a surprise to us. We hardly know that this is the end of the cost overruns."
Malmud, the Common Council President, also raised the issue that the new Department of Public Works Garage was planned to house the Purchasing Department, and that was no longer the case, and that that was a surprise to the Common Council. Pauline Oliva agreed that she could not recall that moving the Purchasing Department out of the new garage was ever discussed in work session or any meeting.
However, Mr. Nicoletti produced a memorandum addressed to the Council dated September 5, 2000, advising the Council that the Purchasing Department was going to be moved to a new building at 202 Westchester Avenue. Nicoletti said $200,000 was to be spent on the new building as part of the $600,000, but said most of the $600,000 for the new DPW garage was to pay for the more expensive concrete pilings he selected.
The Commissioner said it had become clear over the summer of 2000 that purchasing would not fit in the new garage. He maintained that he had always said that purchasing was going to be in a separate building, and that it was in the ordinance the Common Council had voted on to approve the Pep'e-Stop N Shop project.
Mr. Nicoletti patiently took great pains to explain why the more expensive pilings were selected, pointing out that the new garage was a project that had been treated as a "design concept" where construction was to begin, and could not be cost out over six months, taking soil structure samples in the normal Department procedure before it began (as they had with the Youth Bureau move), because there was a city urgency to lock in the project, while the developers were in agreement.
Mrs. Malmud did not accept this: "You're focusing on the nitty gritty, and we're looking at the big picture. Where you're entering into a financial agreement with another party who is theoretically going to pay for all this, you have to have an agreement not just involving the Department of Public Works, but all the departments in the city. We shouldn't be entering contracts unless we have a thorough understanding that it is a good agreement to enter into. There are millions of dollars involved here...We still don't know if there are any more millions that we may end up paying."
Mayor Delfino supported his Commissioner: " I disagree. I think we went through this process. We added amenities, spoke to the Youth Bureau and the needs of our children that we had to fulfill. I think it is the greatest decision this council ever made for the youth of this city. We could have put up a free-standing building for $400,000, but the council was opposed to that. We spoke to the Youth Board, and all agreed it was better to move the Bureau to Eastview."
Councilperson Oliva scoffed that the free-standing building would never have passed. She pointed out that the old Department of Public Works building was a fine building ("It was perfectly fine), and that members of the community, a former Mayor, (Michael Keating) had warned that it was a fine structure and that the Common Council had to be "careful" about losing it. Mayor Delfino pointed out that the old garage required millions in renovation to remain appropriate for the city.
Larry Delgado, Councilman, quietly pointed out that "111 South Kensico (site of the old Youth Bureau, the existing DPW garage) was not an ideal location (for the Youth Bureau)." Delgado said the Common Council in a work session agreed that the Eastview location was better suited than a free-standing building.
Councilman Greer, pressing Nicoletti on the $700,000 worth of design attributed to Pep'e within the original $6.4 million, remarked that "Had we not been so concerned with rushing this through, and had designed it properly, we could have anticipated this ($600,000 expenditure)."
Nicoletti was hesitant: "But, they said that $6.4 million was it. We would have said $700 million, but I don't know if the project would have gone through."
Nick Pep'e, principal of Biano & Pep'e, interviewed by WPCNR last week, told us that his firm had only been paid $300,000 for the design portion of the project, and had included some design costs of the project amounting to up to 15% of the total cost of the project without being compensated for them, including them as a good will gesture. Pep'e also said that Nicoletti had made a good decision on the pilings.
Ms. Malmud concluded discussion by appearing to fix with glee the overrun at 24%, laughing at her inability to do the math, including both the Youth Bureau and new garage added costs.
She had one parting comment to Mr. Nicoletti: "You have to look at this as a package. The Council is not looking at whether 2 foot or 4 foot pilings are needed. We have to look at the big picture. And the big picture was that this was an exchange, it is not just your department, not that I'm zeroing in on you, I don't want to make you feel bad.."
At which point Mr. Nicoletti softly said, "I do feel bad. I'm sorry."
Within minutes the resolution was called at the council voted unanimously to bond for the cost overruns.
But, the Council still had a half-hour to go.
Janice Minieri, the City Registrar, Bureau of Vital Statistics, told WPCNR she remembered some Council meetings going to about 3 o'clock in the morning, but never as late as 20 minutes to 4 in the morning. She remarked that it was the longest Council meeting in thirty years. Before that she said the Council had met twice a month, and limited meetings to an 11 o'clock curfew, after a councilmember had had a heart attack at a late meeting.
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