By November of this year, construction bids are expected to be put out for the expansion of Bloomington’s city hall building into Showers West—which is supposed to house a new police headquarters, and the administrative offices for the fire department.
That was one key takeaway from a city council work session held at noon on Friday.
The hoped-for timeline was described on Friday by project architect Chris Hagan from StudioAXIS. Hagan’s firm was selected by Bloomington for the project in April, after a different firm, Hoefer Welker, had initially been selected in March.
The timeline drew some pointed questions from council president Sue Sgambelluri. Offering some skeptical commentary on the timeline was police union president Paul Post, who was seated at the work session table.
Also in attendance at Friday’s work session—which was held in the Allison Conference room—was Kerry Thomson, the almost certain future mayor of Bloomington starting in 2024. She’s the Democratic Party’s nominee and the only candidate on the ballot, with no registered write-ins.
Thomson took a seat along the back wall with the rest of the public. Around 50 minutes into the meeting, which was scheduled for an hour, councilmember Ron Smith made a gambit to allow Thomson to offer a comment. Smith’s gambit was firmly declined by Sgambelluri, who was presiding over the meeting.
The $8.75-million purchase of the western portion of the building was approved by the city council at the end of January.
Deputy mayor Larry Allen told councilmembers on Friday that the project budget is $14.75 million, which works out to $260 a square foot.
That’s the cost, if all of the square footage for the newly acquired portion of the building is included, not just the renovated space for the roughly 33,000 square feet for the new police headquarters and fire department offices.
Councilmember Jim Sims, who joined the meeting through the Zoom video-conferencing platform, laid out his expectations for some additional information to be included with the final 2024 budget, which is supposed to be presented to the city council by Bloomington mayor John Hamilton on Sept. 27.
Sims wants issues of ingress and egress addressed before the project is put out for construction bids. He also wants more information about the possible connection between the renovation of the space in Showers West and the possible improvement of security for the city council chambers—which has emerged as a concern for several councilmembers.
Councilmember Susan Sandberg also raised the issue of ingress and egress for patrol cars and the coordination with big events near the building, like the city’s farmers market. She said that it had been a concern for her and some of her colleagues, which led them to oppose the Showers West purchase in January.
The vote on the purchase was 5–4. Sandberg was among those who dissented, based in part on the ingress-egress issues.
On Friday, architect Chris Hagan, with StudioAxis, separated the interior design issues from the exterior layout, which would address the ingress-egress issues. Using a construction manager, which is Weddle Bros., will allow multiple bid packages to be issued, Hagan said. He indicated that the ingress-egress issues could be addressed with a separate bid package that could be put out later than the one for the interior construction.
Sgambelluri raised the concern about making progress from simple schematics to detailed construction drawings in the two months between now and November. “Two months doesn’t seem like a lot of time to develop construction documents,” she said. “Do you have any concerns about that?” Sgambelluri asked Hagan. “No,” he replied. Hagan said that along with the simple schematics, StudioAxis was developing the corresponding detailed construction drawings.
Seated at the table on Friday in full uniform was Paul Post who is president of the police union. Councilmember Dave Rollo asked Post if he had any concerns about Hagan’s timeline, which called for construction bids to be put out in November.
Post confirmed Hagan’s description of draft construction drawings that are far more detailed than the simple schematics that were circulated on two pages for the work session—that assessment was based on meetings that he had attended.
But Post said the basic schematics had changed several times in the course of the work. “What can be finished in two months? I don’t know.” Post said the whole process seems short to him. Compared to other city projects, Post said, “This seems really fast.”
Hagan responded to Post’s remarks in part by describing the changes to the schematics as “refinements.”
About 50 minutes into the meeting, which was scheduled for an hour, councilmember Ron Smith observed that “mayor elect” Kerry Thomson was in the room. That drew an immediate correction from councilmember Steve Volan, who noted that Thomson is not, in fact, the mayor elect.
Thomson chimed in: “I’m just the nominee.” After the issue of Thomson’s status was sorted out, Smith invited Thomson to say something: “Is there anything you would like to ask?”
Before Thomson could respond, Sgambelluri, who was presiding over the work session as council president, interjected: “Ron. Can we stay focussed on councilmembers first? Please? Would that be OK?” Smith did not press the issue.
After the work session, The B Square asked Thomson what she would have said, if she’d been given the chance.
Thomson pointed to the timeline and alluded to her experience with the construction of housing as former CEO of Habitat for Humanity. As somebody who used to build things, Thomson said, “I think we’re about three or four orbits away from final construction drawings.”
Based on documents produced to The B Square by the city of Bloomington in response to a records request, the timeline for the project accelerated a bit when StudioAxis was selected in April—compared to the apparent working understanding of the initially selected architectural firm, Hoefer Welker.
Ken Henton of Hoefer Welker wrote to then-deputy mayor Mary Catherine Carmichael on March 14, 2023: “I know that you want the plans complete by the end of the year, so we want to get started to keep us from rushing through the project.”
A week later, Carmichael arranged the kickoff meeting with Hoefer Walker, to take place on March 27, 2023. Police union president Paul Post confirmed to the B Square that the March 27 meeting took place.
It was about two weeks later, when a kickoff meeting with a different architectural firm, StudioAXIS, was held.
Based on the report about an April 12, 2023 meeting between city representatives and staff from StudioAXIS, a key takeaway of the meeting was the expected timeline for the project: “It is important that the project be out to bid by mid-October 2023. It may make sense to incorporate a few weeks of buffer into the schedule.”
The mid-October target reflected an acceleration of the schedule, by two and a half months, compared to the end-of-the-year expectation that Hoefer Welker’s Ken Henton had expressed. That mid-October target has now slipped a bit, to November.
Among the documents in the city’s response to The B Square’s records request, there does not appear to be any information that explains the switch from one architect to another.
But city’s response indicates that some of documents requested by the B Square were withheld: “Intra-agency and interagency emails that were communicated for the purpose of decision making have been withheld as deliberative pursuant to Indiana Code 5-14-3-49(b)(6).”
On March 27, 2023, the same date when the meeting between city officials and Hoefer Welker took place, the campaign finance records for 2023 Democratic Party mayoral primary candidate Don Griffin show a $1,000 contribution from Dandridge White, whose occupation is listed as “architect.” Griffin was the former deputy mayor, who was backed by Hamilton, but did not prevail in the three-way race with Sandberg and Thomson.
Based on records from the Iowa Architectural Examining board, that’s Dandridge Drew White, an architect with StudioAXIS, who attended Friday’s council work session as one of the team, along with Chris Hagan and Ashley Thornberry.
On Friday, among the next steps sketched out by deputy mayor Larry Allen was the sale of the existing police headquarters on 3rd Street. The proceeds from that sale, which the administration expects to be at least $3 million, are part of the financing plan for the Showers West renovation project.