Split council decides to proceed with $35M safety building

Some aldermen say cost of combined police, fire station too high to foist on Port taxpayers

A BRAY ARCHITECTS rendering shows what it refers to as the civic center portion of the proposed Port Washington public safety building that would house both the fire and police stations.
Ozaukee Press staff

PORT WASHINGTON - By a narrow vote Tuesday, the Port Washington Common Council decided to move ahead with plans to build a $35 million public safety building on the city’s west side.

Aldermen voted 4-2-1 to approve a contract with Bray Architects of Sheboygan to proceed with final design of the building. Aldermen Deb Postl, Paul Neumyer, Jonathan Pleitner and Dan Benning voted to approve the contract while aldermen Pat Tearney and Mike Gasper voted against the contract and Ald. John Sigwart abstained.

Aldermen then voted 6-1, with Sigwart abstaining, to hire CD Smith of Milwaukee as construction manager for the project.

Aldermen approved the project without a clear sense of the impact of the cost to taxpayers.

“Are we going to have a discussion of the tax implications tonight?” Sigwart asked, noting he was “knocked back on my heels” by the $35 million cost estimate.

“It seems to me we should have had a better idea (of the impact) in mind,” he added.

City Administrator Melissa Pingel said, “We can’t have that until we have better numbers.”

Mayor Ted Neitzke noted that having an owner’s representative will reduce the cost, adding, “Once there’s a final dollar amount, it’s easier to predict.”

The cost, he predicted, will decrease with the work of the owner’s representative, MC Group.

“We’re not building a $35 million safety center,” Neitzke said, despite the fact the current projected cost of the project is $35 million. “It was made pretty clear there’s no appetite for that.”

The cost to taxpayers inspired both Tearney and Sigwart’s votes.

Tearney said that while he sees a need for the police and fire station, “I’m voting against the overall impact of $35 million on taxpayers.”

He said taxpayers recently approved a referendum to hire additional paramedics by increasing the tax levy by $1.175 million, water rates are increasing and the city has a number of other expensive capital projects looming.

“I was hearing $20 million (for the public safety building). All of a sudden I’m hearing $35 million,” he said. “In a way, it was a vote to slow the process.”

Sigwart agreed, saying he is in favor of the public safety building but not the cost of the proposed facility.

“Maybe it should be $25 million,” he said. “I have no idea what the tax impact is. I’m afraid people don’t want to see it — from what I can see, it’s going to be a lot. I just don’t think we have the cash.

“I’m in favor of the project. I’m just not ready to vote.”

Ald. Deb Postl said the project is so important the city can’t hold off on it any longer.

“The longer we wait, the higher that number goes,” she said. “We’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t. We just have to do it.”

The city will pay Bray 5.7% of the total construction cost, or about $1.6 million, for its work on the project and CD Smith a total of about $969,000.

The fees are based on a percentage of the construction cost of the project.

Ald. Dan Benning noted that the fee is based on a percentage of the actual construction cost, which is estimated at $28.7 million, and does not include the cost of buying the property or buying needed easements from the state.

Ric Miller, founding partner at MC Group, the city’s personal representative, said, “We know we cannot exceed $35 million all in. We have a lot of opportunities ahead of us to bring in added value (and lower costs).”

Tearney asked if there was a point in the process at which the city could walk away from the deal.

“Is there ever a point where we can say, ‘This is too much, we want to stop,’” he asked, acknowledging that is “not likely.”

Neitzke said there are such times, but added the challenge “is to ensure the cost comes down and is on point with our expectations.”

Sigwart questioned the cost estimate, asking Bray representatives, “Did we tell you we wanted the project to be $35 million or did we tell you we wanted the project to be $20 million?”

Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven said the $20 million figure was something former City Administrator Tony Brown came up with, but added that when tailoring the building to the city’s needs the cost increased.

“We realized quickly to meet the needs of a 50-year building” the budget would increase, Vanden Noven said.

“Who decided on a 50-year life for a building we’re going to pay for over 20 years?” Sigwart asked.

The city’s contract would allow it to change the fee from a percentage of the overall cost to a set fee, but Vanden Noven said he favors the sliding scale.

That’s because it allows the city to reap greater benefits from any cost savings near the end of the project, he said, noting the fee won’t be levied on any unused contingency funds.

Benning said he is confident the cost of the project will decrease, noting that there will be a discussion about the need for a training tower at the facility, which is currently in the plans.

“It’s a big-ticket item,” he said. “It’s a million and a half dollars.

“I think the agreement we entered has already added value. We’re going forward positively.”

Miller told aldermen that he expects construction documents to be completed by the end of the year, with bidding set for early spring and construction slated to end in summer 2026.

“We will only take it to market when we have 100% confidence we will meet the budget,” he said.

“We have a lot of opportunities ahead of us to bring in added value.”


Click Here to Send a Letter to the Editor

Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


User login