Last Tuesday, the Winona County Board took the next step toward replacing the roof and rooftop air handling unit of the county government center on Main Street at a combined estimated cost of $725,000. The board gave staff permission to send out a request for proposals (RFP) to contractors, but not before questioning the price tag and products selected.
Replacing the undersized air handling unit has long been on the immediate "to do" list for the stuffy government center. Since 2012, the roof replacement project had been planned for 2016, but last year the project date was moved up to this year. When Commissioner Marcia Ward expressed surprise at that change, County Administrator Duane Hebert — who was placed on paid leave the following day — explained that the project schedule had been moved up as part of the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) approved by the board in December. At both the December meeting and the recent meeting, Hebert noted that it is logical to replace the roof prior to replacing the rooftop air handling unit. In addition, a memo from the maintenance department recommended completing the two projects at once.
Replacing the roof was also identified as a time-sensitive project last February, when Sustainability Coordinator Anne Morse announced that a solar energy firm had offered the county an attractive deal to install solar panels on the roof of the government center, as well as on the Goodview Highway Shop, and finance the panels using Xcel Energy rebates. The government center roof would need to be replaced first, though, staff explained. That solar project sparked a dispute that led the County Board to hire outside investigators (see story page A1).
Commissioner Steve Jacob questioned the county's investment in the government center during the December 2013 meeting. If the county is going to invest in the air unit, the county had better be planning on using the government center for a long time, "because I don't think a $600,000 improvement to this building would add much to the value of this building," he said. The county plans to use the government center for a long time, Hebert replied.
Last Tuesday, Jacob repeated his previous concerns, saying he was having trouble "coming to grips" with the project's cost and questioned how significant the energy savings would be after installation of the new unit. Hebert said they would be significant.
Pointing to indications from staff and consultant reports that utility company rebates would offset the cost of the unit, Commissioner Wayne Valentine asked how much the rebates would be and commented that "it would be nice to know what type of rebates we might get."
Jacob and Board Chair Marcia Ward questioned whether the county should consider alternative systems, such as an indoor air handling unit. Is this RFP restricting the county's options too much? Jacob asked. Hebert noted that consultants had provided the recommendation on what type of air units to use. "That's why you paid over $3,000 for this study," he said.
Ward noted the 20 percent contingency for the project, saying, "I like to be a bit tighter with my checkbook."
Despite questions and concerns, the board members voted unanimously to approve the RFP, noting that they could reject all of the proposals received from contractors.