Marco Island to evaluate cost of adding second party to monitor the construction of Fire Station 50

Marco Island City Council Chairman Erik Brechnitz speaks to Chris Byrne,  the city's emergency management coordinator, during a council meeting on June 15, 2020.

Marco Island City Council Chairman Erik Brechnitz instructed the city manager on Monday to evaluate the cost of hiring someone to monitor the construction of Fire Station 50.

Chris Byrne, the city's emergency management coordinator, said in a City Council meeting on June 1 he would be in charge of overseeing the multimillion-dollar project with the help of the finance department in absence of the city hiring someone else. 

Brechnitz asked Byrne on June 1 what was his experience in overseeing a project of this magnitude.

Byrne said he is not a "construction expert" but that he has been the project manager for all repair projects since Hurricane Irma made landfall in 2017.

He joined the Marco Island Fire-Rescue Department in 1983 and retired as deputy chief in 2016.

For City Councilor Greg Folley, it is about accountability. 

"I feel there is real value in having an owner’s representative who is accountable to this council to make sure we drive the cost as low as possible on this major investment," Folley said Monday.

He asked City Manager Mike McNees whether it is possible to have someone monitoring the project and a construction manager at risk at the same time.

McNees said it would be unusual but that it could be done.

Dan Summers, principal architect with BSSW Architects, downplayed the importance of having someone monitoring the project in addition to the construction manager at risk.

“The owners’ rep doesn’t have really any responsibility other than report back to you," Summers said. "If things go south he is not the one on the hook typically." 

He said it is the architect and the construction manager at risk who are "the ultimate responsible parties for a project.”

City Council voted 4-3 on June 1 authorizing staff to seek a manager at risk for the development and construction of the city’s main fire station.

City Councilors Howard Reed, Charlette Roman, Vice Chairman Jared Grifoni and Folley voted in favor. Councilors Larry Honig, Victor Rios and Brechnitz voted against it.

The goal of having a manager at risk for the development of Fire Station 50 is to deliver the project on time, on budget and with few change orders, according to Byrne.

During the pre-construction phase, the construction manager at risk works with the architects to determine and guarantee the maximum amount of money the city will pay for the project, Byrne said. 

The manager's pre-construction service fee is estimated to be $88,000, according to Byrne.

Other types of construction management contracts do not guarantee a maximum price, making it more likely to go over budget and causing the city to spend more money than what was originally planned, according to Byrne and McNees.

Folley filed a motion Monday to reconsider the vote, resulting in more discussion about the benefits and disadvantages of having a construction manager at risk.

City Council’s rules of procedure state any councilor having voted with a majority may move to reconsider the vote at the same or succeeding meeting.

Brechnitz said the $1.7 million Federal Emergency Management Agency grant tied to this project, prompting the city to move quickly with the pre-construction and design phase, has not been approved.

The pre-construction phase needs to be completed by November for the city to be able to receive the FEMA grant, according to Byrne.

"We are going to have to make an application for that," Brechnitz said, adding that wasn't made clear to him at the time. 

Chris Byrne, the city's emergency management coordinator, speaks during a Marco Island City Council meeting on June 15, 2020.

In case you missed it:Marco seeks manager at risk for $10.4 million fire station, but search may be called off

Byrne said that the funding is not going anywhere until the city decides not to proceed or fails to deliver all federal requirements.

“If we deliver they can still turn us down," Brechnitz said.

As Byrne attempted to talk, Brechnitz interrupted.

“Could they turn us down or not?” Brechnitz said.

"I tried extremely hard to get a guarantee for you, and it’s not possible," Byrne said. "From the experience of looking at projects that have been phased, when delivered they are funded."

Brechnitz then read a portion of a FEMA fact sheet that states the procurement processes for using the manager at risk approach "can be complicated, vary by state, and must comply with the federal procurement under grants rules." 

Brechnitz asked Byrne whether the manager at risk method will put federal funding at risk.

“As long as we follow the federal procurement requirements for this you are able to use a construction manager at risk for federal funding," Byrne said.

Brechnitz asked why Byrne did not mention the FEMA fact sheet during the council meeting on June 1.

"Why do we have to dig this out?” Brechnitz said.

Brechnitz continued after a brief comment from McNees.

“Trust is a very fragile thing in the relationship between a council and a staff," Brechnitz said, adding that trust is hard to rebuild. 

McNees said the city's experience selecting a manager at risk for Veterans' Community Park convinced him it was the best way to manage a project like Fire Station 50.

Over half an hour had passed since the start of the debate when Folley made a motion to reconsider, which was approved 5-2. Reed and Roman voted against it.

Following the vote, city attorney Alan Gabriel said the agenda for the meeting only included an item about whether the vote would be reconsidered at a future meeting. .

Honig said he was under the impression that the matter could be resolved Monday at the meeting. "I'm challenging your ruling," he told Gabriel.

Gabriel insisted the agenda only allows a vote on whether to reconsider the June 1 vote at a future meeting.

“Then you should have stopped us and not let this drag on for 45 minutes and then tell us, 'You guys shouldn’t be discussing it,'" Honig said.

Gabriel said a City Council member could have filed a motion to add an owner's representative to the manager at risk construction management style instead of reconsidering the vote of June 1.

Brechnitz made a motion to reconsider Folley's reconsideration vote and it passed 5-2. Rios and Roman voted against it.

Folley then filed a motion instructing staff to seek someone in addition to the construction manager at risk to oversee the project but it was not immediately seconded as it was quickly followed by a point of order.

After informally asking councilors for a final say on the matter, Brechnitz then instructed McNees to evaluate the cost of adding a second party to monitor the project.

"We are back to the status quo prior to Monday’s board meeting," Brechnitz wrote in an email Tuesday to the Marco Eagle.

On Feb. 3, City Council authorized the city manager to proceed with the architectural drawing of the new Fire Station 50.

The two-story building is estimated to cost more than $10.4 million and as much as $11.7 million, according to a cost opinion made by BSSW Architects.

The approximately 25,000-square-foot fire station will also serve as an emergency center during natural disasters.

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