All jail presentations are up

Last Thursday, the Winnebago County Board voted 20-6 with two absent for a resolution to allow presentations from all four jail construction manager finalists. The process by which the resolution evolved was viewed by some board members as either “democracy in progress” or a “circus.” Finalists are competing for an estimated $2.2-$3.3 million contract to build the county’s new $110 million, 976-bed jail.

The resolution allows the finalists to make a 30-minute presentation with a 15-minute question and answer period at a recessed meeting of the board.

Rick Pollack (R-13), member of the Public Safety Committee, presented the resolution, which was subsequently amended four times. With each amendment, the resolution became more detailed, which added to its clarity.

Supporters of the resolution said the purpose of the presentations is to give board members more information before the board makes its final selection for the position. Critics argue the construction manager selection process is different than how the jail’s architect and project manger were selected primarily due to heavy lobbying by construction firms who were not selected earlier this month by a hand-picked committee.

On April 2, a committee assembled by board Chairman Kris Cohn (R) selected the construction team of locally-based Stenstrom companies and the Rhode Island firm Gilbane Construction, as the construction manager.

However, questions were raised about the team after a series of Times articles about Rock Valley College (RVC) and Stenstrom revealed Cohn’s campaign received contributions from Stenstrom and used his aircraft for Cohn’s failed run for the Illinois Secretary of State office last fall. The aircraft was supposed to be sold as part of Stenstrom’s $1 million “gift” to RVC.

The gift enabled Stenstrom to land a construction manager position at RVC even though the college already had an in-house construction manager and an facilities director. RVC Facilities Director Bill Sjostrom was formerly chairman of the RVC Board of Trustees. Sjostrom is now serving on the “citizens” commission for design of the new jail.

Local labor unions recently picketed two board meetings about Stenstrom’s use of non-union labor at Pearson Plumbing and Heating—another Stenstrom company. The unions also expressed concerns about Gilbane’s national safety record.

Another March article described Ringland-Johnson Construction’s involvement in a no-bid contract to build a clinic for the University of Illinois at Chicago-Rockford medical college. Ringland-Johnson is also a finalist for the construction manager position. The article also detailed the firm’s controversial purchase and lease of property that housed the county’s satellite jail.

The same commission that selected Stenstrom/Gilbane also chose the jail’s controversial architectural team of Wisconsin-based Durrant Group and locally-owned Larson and Darby and PG architecture. Durrant is controversial for several reasons.

During last fall’s campaign for the sales tax increase for the new jail, the county paid Durrant for drawings that helped sell the jail idea to voters. The drawings were shown on local television stations and were printed in the Rockford Register Star.

Sources said Durrant was suggested to the county by the federally-recommended Atlanta jail consultant Mark Goldman. Goldman originally suggested the county build a 1,307-bed jail in 2001. Goldman is now a “sub-consultant” for Durrant. According to the same sources, nearly all the architectural work will be done in Madison, Wis., by Durrant rather than the Rockford architects.

The county’s intent in using a construction manager project delivery system was to ensure maximum participation of local firms and workers during the jail’s construction, said Chris Johnson (R-4). However, using a construction manager rather than a general contractor project delivery system has raised questions not only locally but statewide and nationally. The questions focused on issues such as the use of political favorites, no-bid contracts, and the lack of project price specification.

Traditionally, construction managers are responsible for working with groups such as architects and subcontractors while the jail is being built. Illinois law is still being developed that describes the differences between a construction manager and a general contractor. The lack of clarity in states’ construction manger laws is another reason the designation’s use by taxing bodies is controversial.

Supporters of the resolution said the selection process for the construction manager, architect and project manager has been a learning process. Larry Bauer (R-2) said the basic process hasn’t changed—the committee’s original suggestion of Stenstrom/Gilbane still stands, which board members may still consider.

However, because the jail is the largest building project in county history and the need to learn more about the finalists, the county is obligated to ask for more information, Bauer said. Doug Aurand (D-3) said after the presentations, the county needs to vote each of the finalists, “up or down” until a selection is made at the next meeting of the board May 8.

Johnson, Mary Ann Aiello (R-9), Patti Thayer (R-9) and John Terranova (R-4) disagree with supporters of the resolution. Johnson called the process a “circus.” They voted against the resolution.

Terranova said the selection process has been “tainted” and scolded other board members for not participating in the original presentations, which were held during the day April 1 and 2. Aurand argued that many board members couldn’t attend during the day because of job commitments.

Aurand countered that the original presentation didn’t allow time for questions and answers from board members who weren’t on the committee assembled by Cohn.

The presentations by representatives from the construction firms of Fridh/Alberici, Sjostrom/Boldt, Scandroli/Ringland-Johnson/Bovis and Stenstrom/Gilbane will be made Thursday beginning at 6 p.m. on the eighth floor of the county courthouse, 400 W. State Street.

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