Cedar officials reaffirm tax money for new facility despite disagreement over need

Cedar City Council members, from foreground to background, Ron Adams, Paul Cozzens, R. Scott Phillips, Craig Isom and Terri Hartley at their meeting, Cedar City, Utah, Nov. 28, 2018 | Photo by Tracie Sullivan, St. George News / Cedar City News

CEDAR CITY — After more than an hour of discussion about whether to set aside a vote taken two weeks ago to spend $331,000 of Recreational, Arts, and Parks tax revenue, four Cedar City Council members opted Wednesday to let their vote stand as is.

The council voted Nov. 14 to allot the money for a new concession stand at Bicentennial Park. Their decision, however, was met with resistance by Councilman Paul Cozzens, who wanted the other elected leaders to consider a remodel he said would cost the city far less money in the long run.

Cozzens argued the issue during the City Council meeting two weeks ago but came to Wednesday’s meeting armed with additional information he felt might sway his fellow council members to reconsider their vote.

During the meeting, Cozzens referred to minutes recorded by the RAP tax board showing the board members had discussed a “renovation” of the building. He said he was unclear when plans digressed from a “renovation” to new construction.

Several other council members also stated they were unclear when that decision was made. However, they referred back to the meeting in August when city staff initially presented the idea of a new building to the council, at which time they unanimously voted to approve it.

Cozzens admitted he voted at that time to rebuild the facility, as city staff had told the council then that, due to a bad foundation and footings, the city would have to start over, which would make it “a little more expensive.”

“I guess that ‘little more expensive’ added up to $331,000. That was a little bit of a sticker shock to me,” Cozzens said. “I confess I did vote in August. We voted five to zero to raze the building, to tear it down. I based my decision that night on that information that the footings and foundation were bad, were not good.”

Cozzens rebuked city staff for what he said was a lack of communication during the next several months until Nov. 7 when the council was presented with various bids.

“It just seems like all of a sudden we had all these bids to replace the building and it was going to be torn down,” he said. “I admit I should have done more due diligence back in August, but I went off that study or that statement that the existing footings and foundations were bad.”

The recommendations in part came from an email in which engineers for the project recommended the city not use the footings and foundation of the current facility. However, Cozzens said those recommendations were made in reference to a question about new construction, not a remodel.

Cozzens claimed city staff decided to rebuild the facility before the council had a chance to vote on it. He said he believed a remodel was never considered.

Part of the decision to tear the building down also came from a report written by GEM Engineering, who had conducted an analysis that found “moderate” collapsible soils underneath the facility that could cause it to shift.

Cozzens maintained that the structure and foundation of the 30-year-old building were solid and that if it was going to shift, it would have done so already.

Joel Meyers, owner of GEM Engineering, acknowledged that the facility had not moved “very much” through the years and said a remodel was possible if the city took some precautions.

“What it comes down to is a matter of what risk you want to take with the building,” Meyers said. “If you can fix the leak, protect the soils from getting moisture in them much more than it is currently, but it has performed over 30 years, which is encouraging.”

However, Meyers added that there is risk “no matter what.”

“There is no guarantee it will never move,” he said. “From my standpoint, there is always going to be some risk no matter what, but you can minimize that risk and the building has performed, so those are the things you have to kinda look at.”

When asked by Cozzens whether a new facility could also pose a risk, Meyers said yes.

Cozzens presented a written report by geoengineer Tim Watson, owner of Watson Engineering, showing the structure of the facility was solid.

Councilwoman Terri Hartley said she had also met with Watson and said that he had told her the scope of his analysis for Cozzens was limited only to the “stability of the building above ground.”

“He did not comment or certify to the condition of the soils or the foundation of the building,” Hartley said.

In Watson’s written report to Cozzens, he stated he had not seen any additional written reports nor did he observe any existing conditions during his site visit that concurred with the information provided to the council in August that stated the footings and foundation were bad.

Watson also stated GEM Engineering’s analysis was not prepared to evaluate the conditions of the existing foundation according to the stated purpose of the report.

During the discussion, Hartley read an email by Clay Bulloch, owner of Bedrock Foundation Solutions, in which Bulloch denied providing specific information to Cedar City News regarding financial estimates for a remodel and steel helical piers that might be needed due to the collapsible soils underneath the building.

Bulloch also retracted previous comments he had made to Cozzens during a recent tour of the building.

Bulloch claimed he spent less than 30 minutes viewing the building with Cozzens and only had “limited information about possible problems that had incurred underneath the building itself.”

He told Hartley he later learned additional information that largely “nullified” his previous comments regarding the stability of the building. One of these included a water leak that reportedly sprung up last spring due to a broken pipe.

“As I stated previously, water leaks and water problems are 90 percent of the reason for a building’s failure,” Bulloch said. “If the engineers have determined that the water has had a negative impact would know best on what to do with the structure such as, stabilize and remodel or remove and rebuild. The city council would determine what the needs are and what the use of the building would be for the future.”

Hartley said Bulloch told her that since the water leak was recent, the “footings will hold in place for awhile and slowly give way and crumble as the pressure mounts on them.”

“So even though the building appears to be stable over the next year he (Bulloch) said, we could see subsidence issues,” Hartley said. “It’s really just an unknown.”

Bulloch also stated in his email that remodeling can, at times, cost more than new construction.

During her presentation, Hartley stressed how important city funds were to the council.

“Despite what has been presented to the public over the past week, each and every one of us takes responsibility for and are respectful of the taxpayer’ funds we’ve been entrusted with,” she said.

She added that she felt it would be fiscally irresponsible for the city to “invest nearly $200,000 in a 40-year-old building that could potentially have issues.”

Joey Church, with Church Construction, who was awarded the bid for the new building, advocated for new construction during the meeting.

“I believe to remodel the building, coming from a builder’s aspect and talking to our subcontractors, the price would be the same or more than new construction,” Church said.

He also weighed in on the economics of the issue.

“And if you take the economics into play with all the people coming to Cedar and the influence that building has on the sports and the people want to be in Cedar City and enjoy the surroundings, it’s going to increase revenue obviously if you bring those people into town and support these facilities.”

He warned the council that delays on the project could affect his ability to do a “good job,” due to the weather conditions of the upcoming winter season.

Besides the costs of remodel versus new construction or the question of whether the building is structurally sound, the council also discussed the importance of having a quality facility that was appealing to the public. Councilman Ron Adams, who is a member of the RAP tax board for Parks and Recreation, said he looks at the issue as one of economics.

“This complex is heavily used, heavily heavily used in the spring and through the fall,” Adams said. “Maybe this more from a cosmetic approach, but the people who that come to our city with these teams, these fields are heavily used for playing games for tournaments that bring in 30 teams to our community made up to 12 to 13 individuals and parents and everything else.”

Adams pointed to the economic benefits of the fields’ use.

“Think of the motel rooms, the restaurants and everything that this does to our community,” he said. “So I feel personally upgrading this bicentennial facility has a big future impact for the citizens of Cedar City and the economics.”

Several members of the public also expressed their concerns to the council Wednesday night.

“I guess I’m here to just request you guys do a little more testing before you make a final decision tonight,” Sheryl Stratton said. “This could really save us a lot of money that could be put into other areas. It’s really important to us taxpayers that you do it. We depend on you guys to make the right choices with our money. We elected you. Just take a little more time and do a little more evaluation before you make a decision.”

Jennie Hendricks shared her perspective of the issue as a local realtor.

“To hear water and collapsible soil and galvanized pipes is frightening as a taxpayer,” Hendricks said. “I don’t want my tax dollars gambled with and to have that combination in the 20 years I have done real estate in this area, I have seen homes tried to be fixed and they haven’t  — Trailside, Ashdown Forest, 500 East, Foothill area. Those are all areas where people keep thinking that they can do something with these soils, and it’s not working. So I appreciate the council’s investigation to this point, and I’m glad a ‘top shelf’ facility is out there.”

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