At their Monday, Feb. 24 meeting the Board of Public Works of the City of Ithaca accepted the lone bid from Vacri Construction of Binghamton for the construction of the Sasaki Associates design for the Commons. Vacri is the firm that undertook the second phase of the Commons project, which included replacing all the water mains and making sewer upgrades along East State Street and Bank Alley. The bid for that part of the project came in on budget. The bid for installing Sasaki’s design came in $3.8 million over budget, to bring the Commons renovation tab to $15 million, most of which is being paid for with federal and state money.

“What is the reason for the increase in price?” Commissioner Bill Goldsmith asked project coordinator Michael Kuo. Kuo said that the contractor will not “open up their base bid” until they have been awarded the contract. At that time he and other city representatives will discuss several components of the bid in order to bring the price down.

“This is a big error,” said Goldsmith. “Should we be affixing blame on Sasaki?”

“I have already talked with Sasaki,” said Joann Cornish, director of planning and economic development. “And we will be discussing this with Vacri. We’ll continue working closely with [Sasaki]. We’re disappointed, but it’s not over.” 

“The spotlight will be on Sasaki,” said Kuo. “They want to know what went wrong too.”

“They are proud of the design,” added Cornish, “so they will be a willing partner.”

Commissioner Rob Morache asked about a rumor that a request from NYSEG would delay the project and he also wanted to know why there was only one bid.

“We can’t explain it,” said Kuo in response to the second question. “We got the word out.” Of NYSEG he said, “They are opportunistic. They want to jump in the ground whenever they can. Their schedule is not factored in yet.”

“Is the NYSEG delay an opportunity to re-bid the project?” asked Morache.

“At this point it’s too late in the season to take that route,” said Kuo. 

“It’s not a simple project and there is a lot of construction going on elsewhere,” added Mayor Svante Myrick.

“We need every day to finish on time before Thanksgiving,” Kuo said.

“Can we look at the value engineering here,” Morache went on. “Say, by simplifying the diagonal paving patterns or looking at the trees?” Value engineering is the consideration of cost versus function; reducing cost or improving function increases value.

Cornish was quick to quash the idea of changing the paving pattern. “That is one of the most beautiful parts of the design,” she said. “We will try to save them. The trees are also not on the chopping block.”

Myrick indicated that the elements that would be considered for omission in the third phase of the project would be those that could be added later, such as entrances ways and the playground. He said that he would be approaching “our non-profit partners” to raise the money.

*     *     *

The commissioners approved a one-time waiver of snow removal charges for a 95-year-old city resident who fell behind in the clearance of the sidewalks in front of their home. The fee for snow removal by the city’s machine is $50; residents are charged more if more labor in form of shoveling by hand is necessary.

Commissioner Govind Acharya raised an objection to the waiver. “I will vote against this,” he said. “I think we should raise the fees to deter people from trying to get away with [not shoveling their walks].”

Commissioner Dave Warden, newly returned to the board, disagreed. “If there is a legitimate hardship case,” he said, “then I think it is a separate issue from the fees and the policy.”

“A few people take advantage of the $50 cleaning fee,” said Ray Benjamin, the assistant superintendent of streets and facilities. “Most of them may be repeat offenders.”

The other commissioners agreed that the snow clearance policy needed to be re-visited. It was noted that the fee is $250 in New York City. Goldsmith recommended following the pattern of his proposed sidewalk repair policy wherein fees for non-repair escalated steeply with repeat offenses.

*     *     *

Chief of Police John Barber approached the board for permission to erect a memorial sign at 514 W. State St., where Ithaca policeman Mike Padula was killed in the line of duty on Nov. 17, 1996. He brought along a photo of a similar sign that had been erected by the Rochester police department.

Initially only commissioner Claudia Jenkins objected, saying that it seemed rather morbid and disrespectful to the officer to erect the sign on a sidewalk surrounded by a lot of other clutter. She suggested naming a bridge for Padula instead.

“I think it will become less morbid over time,” said Goldsmith, “and more like those New York State historical markers.”

“Would a more neutral place compromise the intent?“ Warden asked Barber. “Could you put it somewhere else?”

“Historically, it has been where [the event] happened. I consider it an honor to have the sacrifice honored in the place where it happened.”

The board voted to approve the sign, but asked to approve the wording before it was erected. The ceremony is set for May 2 at 11 a.m. at the site. •

(1) comment

Dan Klein

Joann Cornish should resign. She has and continues to defend Sasaki no matter what the facts. This is costing the city an extra 2 million dollars and all we get for that is a generic design. The Commons Redesign Committee voted to use a local design firm rather than out-of-town overpriced inflexible snobbish Sasaki, and Joann Cornish over rode that decision. Sasaki made horrible recommendations that turned out to be completely wrong about light poles, underground vaults, tree placement and selection, landscaping selection, the daily cost of running a fountain, and a number of other things, but Joann Cornish defended them no matter what. Sasaki is responsible for the huge cost overrun and Joann Cornish is responsible for not dealing with it all along the way. She should resign.

Welcome to the discussion.

This is a space for civil feedback and conversation. A few guidelines: 1. be kind and courteous. 2. no hate speech or bullying. 3. no promotions or spam. If necessary, we will ban members who do not abide by these standards.

Recommended for you