East Grand Forks city officials may soon hire a third consultant to help their longstanding effort to revamp the city’s ice arenas and other recreation facilities.

City staff recommended on Tuesday, May 25, that City Council members name Construction Engineers, a Grand Forks-based construction company, a construction manager for the city’s $13.4 million plan to improve the VFW Memorial Arena, East Grand Forks Civic Center and baseball diamonds at Stauss Park. Council members did not object particularly strenuously to the proposal, and they’re set to vote on it at their meeting on Tuesday, June 1.

The city has already paid JLG Architects $14,000 for high-level design on the hoped-for facility upgrades and for help gauging how city residents, who’d hold the ultimate say-so on the sales tax that would pay for them, feel. If voters OK the sales tax, the city would pay the remaining $52,000 stipulated in its revised $66,000 contract with JLG.

East Grand Forks leaders also hired Convergent Nonprofit Solutions to help with a future fundraising campaign, proceeds from which would subsidize the revamped ice arenas. That contract is set to cost the city between $31,000 and $40,000.

The tentative agreement between the city and Construction Engineers would cost $22,500. The company is set to put together more concrete construction costs for each project than the architecture consultants, as well as further refine the projects and keep a temporary city planning committee abreast of both.

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Sharper cost estimates, Mayor Steve Gander felt, could help the city pitch that sales tax to Minnesota lawmakers, who’ll need to sign off on the tax before it heads to residents for a final vote.

“I do feel better walking in, testifying to the Legislature, with all these ducks in a row,” Gander said.

Council member Dale Helms worried that paying the third consultant up front could put the proverbial cart before the horse because the city doesn’t know how much money it might have to work with.

“We really don’t know what we’re going to do yet, we don’t know how much money we have to work with and we don’t know if it’ll even be approved, any of it,” Helms said.

Those votes are still months and months away and the city is not -- at least for the moment -- hiring the company to do actual construction on any of the facilities. It could, however, hire the company to manage the literal construction project itself, if or when the city ever reaches that point.

“As we lead up to a vote, we’re going to be making a promise, here, to our residents on what we’re going to deliver with their dollars. We have to have absolute confidence that what we show on that picture, on that flyer, is what we’re going to build,” Council member Brian Larson, construction manager at UND, said. “And without a construction manager here on board to prove, accurately, what the cost of the design is, how to manage our construction risk, all of the other overhead costs here, I just don’t think we could ask our citizens to confidently vote.”

Sherlock pool fees, water bills could increase

In related news, Council members:

  • Were briefed on Parks and Recreation Commission members’ proposal to increase the daily fees at the swimming pool at Sherlock Park. The plan, which Council members are set to vote on next week, would increase from $3 to $4 the price for a pass for a child ages 5-17, increase from $4 to $5 the cost of an adult pass and increase from $8 to $10 the cost for a “family” swim pass for four people. The fee hikes would increase pool revenue from $38,875 in 2020 to an estimated $48,083 in 2021, according to meeting documents.
  • Were briefed on city administrators’ request to increase by $9 residents’ monthly utility bills. Of that $9, $3 would pay for rising maintenance costs for the city’s sewage system, $2 would pay for the same for its storm sewers, and $4 would pay for longer-term replacement projects for both. Council members are set to hold a definitive vote on that proposal at their meeting on June 1. If they approve the plan, those rate increases would take effect on Jan. 1, 2022.