Library expansion bids come in below budget, allowing for coffee shop concept to be added back to project
When the Lawrence Public Library opens early next year, be prepared to find more than a good book. Perhaps a good cup of Joe awaits too.
And you almost certainly won’t be able to miss the 25-foot piece of art hanging from the ceiling.
City commissioners on Tuesday are set to approve the last major batch of bids for the $19 million expansion of the Lawrence Public Library.
As has been the case with other recent projects, contractors came in with competitive bids. The bids for construction of the library building totaled $9.09 million, which is about $622,000 — about 6.5 percent — lower than the budget for the project.
Architects and the city’s library design committee are recommending commissioners use the savings to add several design elements that will enhance the project. (Perhaps my wife is serving as a consultant on this project because that seems to be her advice when I happen to find a savings somewhere.)
Actually, most of the “enhancements” were included in the original design, but they were broken out of the main bid package in case bids came in higher than expected. If you remember, bids on the parking garage portion of the project did come in higher than expected, and a few items had to be removed. Architects would rather add things than remove them, so the design team adjusted these bids accordingly.
Some of the enhancements will be fairly technical, but at least one will be pretty noticeable, especially to those early-morning library users who may need a little bit more than a Stephanie Meyer novel to wake them up. The design team is recommending that a coffee bar be installed in the main lobby area of the library.
Library director Brad Allen told me that the concept is to have a private vendor come in and operate the facility. He said the amount of space devoted to the coffee bar makes it likely that the shop mainly will focus on coffee and beverages rather than having a large menu of food and pastries.
“There has been quite a bit of public interest in the idea,” Allen said.
No vendor has been selected yet, but Allen said the library has started to receive inquires from potential vendors. Once they find one, perhaps I will pitch my literary-themed name for the coffee shop — Fifty Shades of Black. (Never mind. I thought the best-selling Fifty Shades of Grey was the memoir of a conservative suit salesman.)
Other design enhancements included as part of the recommended bid package:
• A more acoustical-friendly ceiling for the library’s auditorium.
• Tile and wood flooring for the main lobby and reference desk area.
• The insertion of “tubular daylighting devices” that will allow more natural light into the building.
Speaking of light, it is going to be a major theme in the building. A 25-foot piece of art hanging from the ceiling will ensure that. As we previously reported, a committee of artists, library leaders and city staff members have recommended the glass artist team of Dierk Van Keppel and John Shreve be awarded a $75,000 contract to create public art for the new building.
Commissioners are set to finalize that contract on Tuesday, and more details about the proposed artwork are becoming available. The artists plan on having several pieces of glasswork in the library, but the main piece will hang from the ceiling above the atrium area of the library.
The piece is entitled “A Ribbon of Light,” and will be constructed of clear and colored glass that will be suspended by a stainless steel structure. Its length will be about 25 feet, and it will be from 3 feet to 8 feet wide. A rendering of the proposed artwork isn’t yet available. But you can get a sense of what the team likes to do by looking at some of their previous work here.
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. on Tuesday to accept the bids and approve the contract.
As for how many local companies won bids on the project, I don’t know yet. The list of winning bidders is still being compiled, but it will be released prior to Tuesday’s meeting. Lawrence-based B.A. Green Construction is serving as the construction manager of the project. (UPDATE: A preliminary list shows several Lawrence firms did win bids as subcontractors for the project. In addition to work done by B.A. Green, Lawrence-based companies R.D. Johnson Excavating, Diamond Everley Roofing, Kennedy Glass, HiTech Interiors, and Commercial Floorworks are all set to win bids on the project.)
In case you have forgotten, the city already has accepted bids on the parking garage portion of the project. Those bids came in at $6.10 million. With these latest bids, the bulk of the project has been bid, and the total stands at $15.81 million. I’m sure there are still more expenses to come, but the project appears well-positioned to come in at or below the $19 million total price tag that was presented to the public.
Allen hopes the library will be ready for the public in spring or early summer 2014.
For a man who now owns two pigs (technically, my 4-H children own them but I have yet to be paid), this is news of note: The large pharmaceutical company Merck Animal Health is setting up a Lawrence laboratory.
Details are slim right now, but the company has pulled a building permit to do about $110,000 worth of work in a small industrial building at 2415 Ponderosa. The permit indicates the company is adding laboratory space to the building, which is about two blocks south of 23rd Street.
Merck has a fairly significant operation just off Kansas Highway 10 at De Soto, but a Lawrence presence is something new. I haven’t yet found a good contact at Merck, but I’ll put in a few phone calls and see what I can find out. Based on the size of the building, it doesn’t appear that this facility will employ lots and lots of people. Nonetheless, the project will create excitement among economic development leaders in Lawrence because it is in the community’s wheelhouse of bioscience development. In that arena, any new company is a benefit because it helps to build what economic development leaders call a critical mass. In other words, bioscience companies like to locate where other bioscience companies are located.
The area of animal health doesn’t immediately pop to mind as an area of research strength for Kansas University. But LaVerne Epp, executive chairman for the Bioscience and Technology Business Center, told me KU’s strength in human pharmacueticals can translate over to animal health companies as well.
And this part of the country is a target for animal health development. Leaders in both Kansas and Missouri are working to brand the area from Columbia, Mo., to Manhattan as the Animal Health Corridor.
Lawrence has at least two significant players in the animal health arena currently: Argenta, a New Zealand-based animal health company has a laboratory in the Bioscience and Technology Business Center; and IdentiGen, a company that provides DNA tracing products for meat producers, has its U.S. headquarters in Lawrence.
“I think we do have good potential in the animal health arena,” Epp said. “We’ve had other inquiries from companies that you would recognize as animal health firms. They like the location and the potential for collaboration with KU.”
Epp said Merck has expressed some interest in Lawrence in the past, but he doesn’t have information about its current project.
I’ll let you know when I hear more. Who knows, maybe there is a beautiful relationship that can be had between my pigs and Merck. I’m willing to do about anything to get my money back on these. A little extra meat at the 4-H fair wouldn’t hurt. I would even name one Barry and the other Bonds, if you know what I mean. Wink, wink.
New report compares Lawrence’s economy to others in the region; latest numbers show local economy shrank in 2011
Watch out Cleveland, Tenn. We’re right on your heels.
What? When you think of cities similar to Lawrence, you don’t think of Cleveland, Tenn.? What’s that? You don’t think of Cleveland, Tenn. — population 42,000 people along the Ocoee River — at all. Well, by one standard, that city is our closest of kin.
The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis recently released its annual report on the size of local economies. (They call it the Gross Domestic Product for metropolitan areas, but it basically is just a measurement of all the economic activity in a community.)
I normally find the report interesting because it reminds me of something that we perhaps forget from time to time. We’re small — at least when it comes to the size of our business community.
The latest report — which measures 2011 economic activity — shows Lawrence had an economy of $3.56 billion. That ranked Lawrence 339 out of the 366 metro areas.
That’s where we are ranked currently. We won’t be ranked there long, unless we start to see a rebound. The BEA report found Lawrence’s economy actually shrank in 2011 by 1.7 percent. (Note: The BEA uses some inflation-adjusted dollars to determine if an economy has grown or shrunk. Without that inflation adjustment, we grew a bit.) The negative 1.7 percent growth rate ranked us 338 out of the 366 metro areas. We also were well below the average growth rate for a metro area, which checked in at 1.6 percent.
But back to our cousins in Cleveland. I mention them because we have the 339th largest economy in the country and Cleveland has the 338th largest. So — if like all great coaches say — you take ’em one at a time, Cleveland should be our next aspiration.
I’m, of course, just having a little bit of fun here. Cleveland and Lawrence aren’t much alike. Cleveland likely would gladly take our major research university, and Lawrence probably would take Cleveland’s batch of industrial businesses: Coca Cola, M&M Mars, Dr. Scholl’s foot products, Tappan appliances, Duracell Batteries, and something called Catnapper recliners. There are a lot of different ways to have a $3.5 billion economy.
But what is interesting about the BEA list is just how much smaller Lawrence is — at least in economic size — to several other cities that we compare ourselves to. A few that jumped out at me included Columbia, Mo. Columbia has an economy of $6.91 billion compared to Lawrence’s $3.56 billion. Even Joplin, Mo., is quite a bit bigger than Lawrence, checking in at $5.97 billion. But the one that really stuck with me was — you guessed it — Manhattan. The home of Kansas State University has an economy of $6.5 billion. Manhattan’s economy is nearly twice as large as Lawrence’s. That seems hard to believe, but that is what the numbers show. While that sinks in, here’s a look at several other cities of interest:
• Lawrence: $3.56 billion in 2011. Rank: 339
• Ames, Iowa: $4.24 billion; Rank: 309
• Austin, Texas: $90.91 billion. Rank: 34
• Boulder, Colo.: $19.35 billion. Rank 111
• Columbia, Mo.: $6.91billion. Rank 218
• Fort Collins, Colo: $12.0 billion. Rank 159
• Iowa City: $7.90 billion. Rank: 208
• Joplin, Mo.: $5.97 billion. Rank: 246
• Kansas City, Mo./Kan.: $108.1 billion. Rank 26
• Lubbock, Texas: $10.53 billion. Rank: 173
• Madison, Wis.: $36.52 billion. Rank: 63
• Manhattan: $6.5 billion. Rank: 230
• Oklahoma City: $60.99 billion. Rank: 46
• St. Joseph, Mo.: $4.67 billion. Rank: 296
• Springfield, Mo.: $15.38 billion. Rank: 133
• Topeka: $9.50 billion. Rank: 187
• Waco, Texas: $8.75 billion. Rank: 198
• Wichita: $27.36 billion. Rank: 82
As I’ve already mentioned, Lawrence did not do well in terms of its GDP growth in 2011. (There were signs of some positive economic activity in 2012 and they continue in 2013, so perhaps next year’s report will show a reversal in fortunes.) One-year growth rates always should be taken with a grain of salt, but here’s a look at some in our region:
• Lawrence: negative 1.7 percent Rank: 338
• Ames: 3.2 percent Rank: 42
• Austin: 4.4 percent. Rank: 20
• Boulder: 3.6 percent. Rank: 31
• Columbia, Mo.: 1.7 percent. Rank: 117
• Iowa City: 3.5 percent. Rank: 34
• Joplin: 0.1 percent. Rank: 234
• Kansas City: 0.0. Rank: 243
• Manhattan: 5.0 percent. Rank: 17
• Topeka: 1.0 percent. Rank: 160
• Wichita: 0.5 percent. Rank: 209
What about our cousins in Cleveland, you ask? Well, their economy grew at a 3.5 percent rate in 2011. Yes, that will make it a little more difficult to catch them, but don’t worry. We’re talking about a town that makes Coca-Cola, M&Ms candy and comfortable recliners. We’ll catch ’em because at some point they’re going to have to take a break to go to the cardiologist.
Little noticed state law change will require one week delay of swearing in of new city commissioners
There won't be a change of power at Lawrence City Hall next week after all. But no, were not in the midst of a coup.
Instead, local election officials are now realizing a change in state law impacts how quickly Tuesday night's election results can be made official. Those results won't be made official until Thursday, April 11, which means Jeremy Farmer and Terry Riordan can't be sworn into office on Tuesday, April 9, as originally planned.
The two new members of the commission — along with holdover Mike Amyx — will take their oaths on April 16. That's also when the new city commission will hold its election to select a mayor from its ranks.
Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew said the change comes from the Voter ID law that became law in January 2012. That law gives counties the option of delaying the canvassing of the vote until the second Thursday after the election. In past years, the vote was canvassed and made official on the first Friday after the election.
Shew said his office believes in taking the extra time because it gives people more time to find their IDs and bring them to the courthouse. The Voter ID law allows people who don't have an ID with them when they visit a polling site to cast a provisional ballot on election day. But they have to provide an ID to the county clerk before the votes are made official.
If you are not familiar with it, the canvassing process is where election officials go over each provisional ballot and rule whether it is valid.
The provisional ballots aren't likely to change the outcome in the Lawrence City Commission race. There were 119 provisionals cast in Lawrence. (Technically, the difference between third and fourth place in the City Commission race is 97 votes, which means nearly all the provisional ballots would have to go to fourth-place finisher Leslie Soden in order for the results to change. That's highly unlikely.) But process is process, and you can't swear someone in until the election results are official. And the provisionals may play a role in some other races. The Baldwin City mayoral race has just a 12-vote margin.
So, if you were planning on rolling out a red carpet for the new commissioners, keep it in storage for another week. If you were planning on bringing lots of treats and beverages to City Hall to celebrate, feel free to go ahead and do that next week. Drop them off at the media table and I'll keep an eye on them for you.
Downtown Lawrence Inc. soon will be looking for a new leader.
DLI Executive Director Cathy Hamilton announced today that she’s leaving the organization this summer to retire.
“I’m fortunate that I am able to retire a couple of years earlier than I had expected,” said Hamilton. “But I have the chance, and I’m going to take it.”
Hamilton said she will stay on through Downtown Lawrence’s big sidewalk sale, which is set for July 18, and she hopes to be able to provide about four weeks worth of training to the next director.
Hamilton has been with the organization — which provides marketing, event planning and other services to merchants and other downtown businesses — for about 2.5 years. Before that, she was a longtime employee and television personality on Sunflower Broadband, back when it was owned by The World Company, which is the parent company of LJWorld.com. (In other words, that’s my way of disclosing that I know a television personality.)
Serving as the director of Downtown Lawrence Inc. could be described as being a chief cat-herder. Downtown Lawrence merchants are an independent bunch, but Hamilton said the job has been a “great job.”
“And for the right person, it will be a great job for them too,” Hamilton said. “I’m nothing but optimistic about the future of downtown.”
Hamilton said the large amounts of new residential development being built downtown — particularly at the intersection of Ninth and New Hampshire — is adding a new level of excitement to downtown merchants.
“There seems to be a real optimism on the street, which is different than when I started,” Hamilton said. Downtown Lawrence Inc.’s board already has begun advertising for a new director on its Web site.
It is time to clean out the City Commission election refrigerator. There are canned speeches, moldy questionnaires and calorie-laden political advertisements in here. But I’ve had enough of all that, so I’ll just pass along some leftovers of a different type — leftover notes from my notebook.
• Let’s set the table for who is who in this new City Commission. First, Hugh Carter and Aron Cromwell will finish their terms at next Tuesday’s City Commission meeting. Mike Dever and Bob Schumm were the two incumbent commissioners who were not up for re-election. Mike Amyx and newbies Jeremy Farmer and Terry Riordan will be sworn into their terms at next week’s meeting. That’s your five.
• Schumm’s one-year term as mayor will end on Tuesday. If tradition holds — and it will — vice mayor Dever will be elected by his fellow commissioners to serve a one-year term as mayor. Also, it is expected that Mike Amyx, as the top vote winner in the election, will be elected as vice mayor. That means he’ll be in line to be the mayor in April 2014. If tradition holds, Farmer, as the second-place finisher, is in line to be the vice mayor in April 2014, which means he’ll be mayor in April 2015.
• There was so much action with the political newcomers last night — Farmer, Riordan and fourth-place finisher Leslie Soden — that it was easy to overlook the accomplishment of Amyx. The downtown barber shop owner won his fifth term on the City Commission. His first term on the commission was a two-year term in 1983. All the rest have been four-year terms. So, at the end of this new term, he will have served 18 years on the City Commission, although not consecutively. I’ll have to brush up on my history to determine who, if anyone, has served longer on the City Commission. In addition, Amyx served four-plus years as a Douglas County commissioner in the late ’80s and early ’90s.
“I woke up at 1:15 in the morning (election morning),” Amyx told me at last night’s vote counting. “I was so excited I couldn’t go back to sleep. I’m as excited today as I was in 1983.”
• Political pundits (in Lawrence, I think that is just code for guys who sit on bar stools and talk about politics) will spend a bit of time figuring out what impact the new political action committee Lawrence United had on the race. Two of the three candidates it endorsed won election, but the question will be whether they won because of the PACs endorsement or in spite of it? The PAC endorsed Farmer, Riordan and unsuccessful candidate Rob Chestnut.
For Farmer, the numbers didn’t change much from the primary election, when he finished second by about a 400-vote margin. On Tuesday, he finished second with about a 440-vote margin. Farmer was solidly in the top three all night long, and that pretty much was the case during the primary election too.
For Riordan, the situation was different. He won third place only by 97 votes after having secured third place in the primary by 310 votes. And Riordan definitely had a tension-filled night. Until the last West Lawrence returns came in, it appeared he was going to lose to Soden, who was seeking to become the first candidate in recent memory to go from sixth place in the primary to the top three.
Riordan told me last night that he thought some voters did react negatively to a well-funded PAC becoming involved in a City Commission race. But Riordan, a Lawrence physician, also pointed out that people who believed PAC funding would influence him perhaps were forgetting something. The biggest contributor to Riordan’s campaign was Riordan himself. He estimated that once all the figures are totaled, he will have provided about 60 percent of the funds — about $18,000 — for his campaign.
The third candidate endorsed by the PAC, Chestnut, certainly didn’t get a boost. He was in fourth place after the February primary but fell to sixth place on Tuesday. One difference between Chestnut and the other two is that Chestnut also was the subject of a supportive mailing by the Americans for Prosperity group in the days before the election. Perhaps the takeaway is that help from Americans for Prosperity is no help at all in Lawrence city politics. Or that may just be hokum as well. It is worth noting that Chestnut finished last in the ballots that were voted in advance as well, and a good number of them likely were cast before the AFP mailer. So, I don’t know. That’s the thing about political punditry — there’s a lot of guessing involved.
• Speaking of guessing, that's what some people will be doing to try to figure out Soden’s rise in the general election. Was it — as she suggested — an indication that Lawrence residents still are pretty divided over this proposed recreation center? Soden and Amyx were the most outspoken candidates on the issue. Or, was it that the Lawrence electorate really does want to have a female voice on the commission? There hasn’t been a woman on the commission since Sue Hack left the commission in 2009.
In the primary election there were two female candidates — Soden, who finished sixth, and Judy Bellome, who finished seventh. Between the two, they got 19.6 percent of all the votes in the primary. In the general, Soden, the lone woman in the field, got 16.3 percent of the vote. What does that mean in relation to our question? I don’t know, but I got the abacus out to create a number, so I’m darn sure going to use it.
• Finally, it is worth remembering that we have these elections to create a City Commission that presumably will go out and do something. Now the question is: What will this next commission do? It will be interesting to watch. I can tell you that some of the first words out of Riordan’s mouth involved discussion of a new police headquarters facility. The idea got more talk in this election than it did in the last election. For what it's worth, the three candidates endorsed by the police officers political action committee won the election.
But the new facility could cost between $20 million and $40 million to build. If it moves forward, it will follow an $18 million expansion of the Lawrence Public Library, a $25 million recreation center, a $64 million sewage treatment plant that will come with a multiyear increase in sewer rates, and a new curbside recycling program that comes with a $2.81 per month rate increase.
Probably one of the bigger issues the next City Commission will have to figure out is the mood of the public. Does it still have an appetite for large projects or will it want to take a pause?
• One last number for the election: the 16.3 percent voter turnout rate. The number is what it is, but Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew said it is worth noting that the rate is affected by several precincts that are dominated by KU students. It has been tough to get them interested in city commission or school board elections. The Burge Union, for example, had three voters, which produced a turnout of 0.25 percent.
Four Lawrence precincts saw turnouts higher than 30 percent:
• Brandon Woods, 1501 Inverness Drive: 33.6 percent.
• American Legion, 3408 W. Sixth: 32.9 percent.
• Liberty Memorial, 1400 Massachusetts: 31 percent.
• Pioneer Ridge Assisted Living, 4851 Harvard: 30.7 percent.
Who knows, this could be one of the last elections we have in April. There continues to be talk at the Statehouse of moving city and school elections to November. I asked Shew what he thought about that. He said he had concerns about combining the races with the partisan presidential and gubernatorial races that take place during the even-numbered years. He said that would make for a multipage ballot, and would add complications for both voters, who would have far more races to become educated about, and for election workers.
But he said an idea to move the city/school elections to November in odd-numbered years — when they would still have the ballot to themselves — is intriguing. He said it is possible that if residents knew that there would be an election every November, it might be easier for folks to remember to vote. But he’s unsure. It will be worth watching to see if such a proposal advances at the Statehouse.
This confuses me. Surely everyone already eats, sleeps and breaths Lawrence City Commission election news. My favorite item in the paper today is the On the Street question where we ask — on Election Day, mind you — how interested folks were in the City Commission race. One guy answered: “I’m interested. I didn’t realize the election was today, but I’ll definitely read about it tomorrow.”
I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Nah, I think I’ll just find my seat and become a political pundit for the rest of the day.
UPDATE: I just recently received a new spreadsheet from the Douglas County Clerk's office showing the voting totals by precinct for the election. Click here to see them for yourself. They provide a lesson in Lawrence election mathematics: What's most important is not winning a precinct but always finishing in the top three.
Don't get me wrong, winning is good. Just ask Amyx. He won 41 of the 64 precincts in the city in route to a runaway first place finish.
But the next most frequent winner was Soden, and by a lot. Soden won 14 of the 64 precincts, but finished fourth in the vote totals. That's because in several precincts, she finished out of the top three.
To show how unimportant winning a precinct is, Farmer and Riordan — the second- and third-place overall winners — each finished first in just two precincts.
Riordan won the precincts at Langston Hughes Elementary and a very small precinct at the Lawrence Union Pacific Depot that had six votes.
Farmer won the precincts at the Lawrence Bible Chapel on Monterey Way and a small precinct at Prairie Park Elementary that had 21 votes.
Chestnut won at Corpus Christi Catholic Church and a small precinct at Free State High School. Soden won the precincts at: Pickney, Douglas County Senior Services; Carnegie Building (2 precincts); Trinity Lutheran Church (2); Hillcrest Elementary; Central United Methodist Church; Cordley Elementary; Centennial Adult Education; Liberty Memorial; Haskell Stidham Union; East Lawrence Center; New York Elementary. So, a strong East Lawrence and central Lawrence base.
Amyx won all the remaining precincts.
Lawrence City Commission elections aren't decided by wards. All five seats on the commission are at-large positions. If the city had a ward system, it seems likely the results would have been different this year.
The old F-150 and I have been out checking polling sites in Lawrence today, and the results are unscientific (almost everything that happens in the F150 is) but it sure appears that the west side of Lawrence is getting out better than the east side of Lawrence.
I was out over the noon hour at several east Lawrence polling places, and only at one did I encounter more than one voter. Shortly after lunch, there was a steady stream of voters at pretty much every west Lawrence site I went to today.
Here are some of the numbers I gathered:
• Checkers, 23rd and Louisiana, at noon: 29 voters of 921 registered; 3.1 percent turnout.
• Prairie Park Elementary, 2711 Kensington Road, at 12:30 p.m.: 123 of 3057; 4.0 percent turnout.
• Douglas County Fairgrounds 19th and Harper, at 12:40 p.m.: 65 of 1,877; 3.4 percent turnout.
• New York Elementary, 936 New York St., at 1 p.m.: 69 of 1,031; 6.6 percent turnout.
• East Lawrence Recreation Center, 1245 E. 15th St., at 12:45 p.m.; 62 of 1,193; 5.1 percent turnout.
• American Legion, 3408 W. Sixth St., at 1:20 p.m.: 142 of 987; 14.3 percent turnout.
• Mustard Seed, 700 Wakarusa Drive, at 1:30 p.m.: 204 of 1,751; 11.6 percent turnout.
• Langston Hughes Elementary, 1101 George Williams Way, at 1:45 p.m.: 325 of 2,450; 13.2 percent turnout.
• Corpus Christi, 6001 Bob Billings Parkway, at 1:50 p.m.: 125 of 1329; 9.4 percent turnout.
• 360 Church, 3200 Clinton Parkway, at 2:10 p.m.: 103 of 1,160; 8.8 percent turnout.
Polls are open until 7 p.m., so there's still plenty of time for this trend to change. But it would be no surprise if the votes from the west side of town far outweigh the number from the east side. That has been the trend the last few municipal elections. There were questions, though, whether the school bond issue would alter that balance a bit. We’ll see.
As for what a heavy westside turnout would mean for the races, I suppose there could be any number of interpretations. On the City Commission race, it probably makes the race more competitive for Rob Chestnut, who finished fourth in the primary election. The primary election numbers showed a good amount of his support came from the west side of town. As it is shaping up, I expect a close contest for that third and final spot on the commission.
Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew provided this report that showed totals for pretty much every precinct at 10:30 a.m. You can do your own ciphering with it.
As for me, I have to put gasoline in the F-150. Now I see why elections are so expensive.
Bids to convert former Farmland fertilizer site into new business park come in far lower than expected
If you have about 450 acres of an abandoned fertilizer plant, now is apparently a good time to convert it into a business park.
The city is in the process of awarding two key construction contracts to convert the former Farmland Industries fertilizer plant on the east edge of Lawrence into a business park. And both bids for the contract came back well below what the city was expecting.
Last week the city awarded a $4.98 million bid to Lawrence-based R.D. Johnson Excavating for street construction, waterline installation and lot grading at the site. The city’s engineers had estimated the work to come in at $8.16 million. That’s a difference of almost 40 percent.
This week, commissioners are scheduled to accept bids to install the necessary sewer lines for the site. The low bid is from Amino Brothers at $601,089. The city’s engineers had estimated a cost of $1.41 million. That’s a difference of almost 60 percent.
I guess that is why you take bids.
City officials are hoping other construction firms are as hungry as these. The city in the next week or so is set to approve a set of bids for the $18 million library expansion project. Those bids have already come in, and my understanding is interest was extremely high by contractors.
On May 14, the city will be getting bids on an even larger project: the $25 million city recreation center. We’ll see how hungry recreation center builders are. But what we won’t see are any bids for the infrastructure work on that project.
The city negotiated a deal with KU Endowment officials and Thomas Fritzel’s Bliss Sports that calls for the recreation center building to be bid through the city’s normal bid process. But the infrastructure work for the KU and city project — things like streets, sewers, waterlines and parking lots — won’t be bid through the city’s open bidding process. Instead, Fritzel’s Bliss Sports will use its preferred contractors and will negotiate a price for that work. I’m sure the city will make Fritzel aware of these bids, assuming the price hasn’t already been fully determined. (Some dirt-moving work is under way at the site.)
The city has an interest to pass these bids along because the city likely will be paying for a portion of that infrastructure work. The Rock Chalk Park deal calls for the city to pay for 100 percent of the cost to build the recreation center building. The city then will pay for infrastructure work up until a point that the city’s total cost on the project reaches $25 million. So, if the city’s recreation center bid comes in at $19.9 million, which is the current estimate by the city, then the city will pay $5.1 million for the infrastructure/parking work. (I previously had said $7 million, which shows why I don't have a career in math.) That means the city would pay a little less than half of the infrastructure/parking costs that are estimated at $13.5 million. Some people have said that sounds about right, since the infrastructure will serve both the city-owned property and the property that will house the KU track, softball and soccer facilities.
But as the Farmland project has shown, estimates are more of an art than a science. If those estimates — much like the Farmland estimates — are 50 percent too high, then the city would be paying for about 75 percent of the infrastructure and parking costs for the entire Rock Chalk Park project. (That is assuming that the city’s estimate for the construction of the building comes in at $19.9 million. Perhaps that estimate is high also, which changes the dynamics even more.)
It will be interesting to watch but perhaps hard to sort out. What is clear is it seems to be a good time to be going out for bid on construction projects.
The city is taking advantage of the good prices on the Farmland project. Originally, the city thought it may only be able to install the streets, sewers and waterlines in this first phase. But because the prices were low, the city added an alternate that allows for about 12 pad sites to have preliminary grading work completed. That will speed up the process for future business park tenants to build on those lots.
Work on the streets and sewers at the Farmland site is expected to go on throughout the summer and into the fall. The city hopes to have lots ready to build upon at Farmland by late 2013 or early 2014.
It may end up being a good time to have industrial property to offer. I read this article today from the Washington Post about how European manufacturers are starting to relocate to the U.S. because of our cheap natural gas prices. Chemical companies, in particular, are among those migrating.
It is funny how quickly the world changes. When I covered Farmland’s bankruptcy about a decade ago, high natural gas prices were one of the leading factors that put the Lawrence fertilizer plant out of business. Not that I think it is very likely, but how odd would it be if the big new user for the revamped Farmland site is a fertilizer plant?
Advance voter turnout at highest level since 2005; update about which PACs have to report their spending for local races
Your time to have some Lawrence City Commission election fun is quickly winding down. For example, if you were hoping to vote in advance, you’ve just missed your window.
Advance voting ended at noon today for the April 2 local election, which also includes races for the Lawrence school board and the school bond election. Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew reports that 1,583 advance ballots were cast for the general election.
Those advance ballots are sometimes a good predictor of voter turnout, and, if that is true this year, then we should expect a few more people than usual to come to the polls for a local election.
The 1,583 advanced ballots represent a 49 percent increase over the number of advanced ballots cast for the 2011 city/school board election. In fact, this year’s total is the highest since 2005, when 1,619 voters turned out in advance.
Higher numbers for this election wouldn’t be a surprise because there is a school bond election on the ballot. That has provided a boost to voter totals in past years.
Couple that with the fact that a snowstorm created a very lightly attended primary election in February, and political observers have several questions about how tomorrow’s race will shake out. I would guess that the race for the third and final seat on the Lawrence City Commission will be a tight one.
We’ll know by tomorrow evening. The polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, and this time it appears unlikely that voters will have to deal with snow.
• When it comes to election questions, a few of you have had some about political action committees. As we have reported, a new PAC formed this year, Lawrence United, to promote a pro-jobs/pro-business platform. We’ve detailed its fundraising activities, as they have been reported to the Douglas County Clerk’s office.
But there are other PACs out there as well. The most visible in the last few days have been the PACs created by the local employee associations (basically unions) of the Lawrence police officers and Lawrence firefighters.
Perhaps you have noticed they have been running advertisements asking you to vote for a slate of candidates. Both groups have endorsed City Commissioner Mike Amyx, Jeremy Farmer and Terry Riordan. Those three candidates were the top three finishers in the primary election.
But some of you have wanted to know how much money those PACs have raised and spent on this election. Well, you’ll find out, but not right now.
An oddity of state law gives those PACs until Jan. 10, 2014, to report their spending and fundraising during this election. That’s because both those PACs are registered as state PACs, meaning they can expend money on state legislative races, in addition to local city and school board races. The Lawrence United PAC, in contrast, registered only as a local PAC.
Local PACs have a reporting period that falls during the local election season. State PACs do not. That state law quirk has been a source of frustration for some.
“It puts the public at a disadvantage because you don’t know how much money is being raised or how much is being spent,” said Carol Williams, executive director of the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission.
But Williams stressed the groups are meeting all of the state laws. And it would be hard to argue that the groups should register only as a local PAC. With some of the bills before the Legislature this year, it is easy to see how police and firefighter groups may want to become involved in some Statehouse races. If they registered as a local PAC, they would be prohibited from doing so.
As for these two PACs, the police and firefighters, their past reports indicate their fundraising activity is pretty straightforward. During the 2011 local elections, the police PAC had $5,000. All of it came from the police association itself, rather than from special interest groups. The Lawrence Professional Firefighters PAC had $5,975. All of its donations came in the form of donations of $50 or less.
Both groups generally give $500, the maximum under state law, to each of the candidates ndorsed. The groups also generally run a few ads asking people to support those candidates. (UPDATE: Rob Neff, treasurer for the police PAC called me today and said that has been the case this year too. It has given $500 to the three candidates it has endorsed, and has spent a little less than $1,300 on advertisements and fliers related to the election.)
At least one other group makes a point to publicly announce endorsements. The Lawrence Board of Realtors has endorsed Amyx, Riordan and Rob Chestnut.
The Lawrence Board of Realtors doesn’t have its own PAC. But there is a Kansas Realtors Political Action Committee, and it has given donations to candidates in this race and in past city commission races. The Kansas Realtors PAC is a good example of how a truly statewide PAC sometimes will dip its toe into local races. The Kansas Realtors PAC in 2011 had just under $240,000.
Then there are some groups that do some election-season advertising but don’t have to report their expenditures because they aren’t specifically advocating for the election of a particular individual. Williams said that often is how the group Americans for Prosperity structures its advertisements. I haven’t seen it, but Jim Mullins, a field director for Americans for Prosperity, confirmed to me that the group did send out a mailer this weekend that dealt with some Lawrence City Commission topics and also had some mention of candidate Rob Chestnut. Again, I haven’t seen it, so I don’t know the specifics on its content. (UPDATE: I asked the folks at AFP to send me one, and they did. The mailer doesn't mention the election but instead talks about Chestnut's role in balancing budgets when he was on the commission. Instead of asking you to vote for him, it asks you to call him and then lists his cell number.)
The Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission has a website that lists all the state political action committees and their most recent finance reports. There are about 250 of the PACs.
The only other one that clearly is Lawrence-based is the Lawrence Teachers PAC, which had $2,928 available during the 2011 campaign.
It will be interesting to see if more are formed in Lawrence in the future. The list from Governmental Ethics makes it clear that the idea of a PAC to support local jobs or local business growth isn’t unique. The Wichita Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Kansas City Area Chamber of Commerce are both examples of local chambers of commerce that have political action committees. Lenexa also had what was called a “Business Issues” political action committee, and the homebuilders in the Kansas City area had a couple of PACs.
What is unique about the new Lawrence United PAC is that it has registered as a true local PAC, meaning it has to show its fundraising activity now, rather than well after the fact.
Well, it looks like a certain basketball-oriented celebration that has been known to close downtown streets has been called off this year. But fear not, there will still be plenty of opportunities to celebrate — and close downtown streets — in the coming weeks.
What sort of a lineup have we got scheduled? What would you say if I told you that you could take out your hatred on tick-borne diseases by participating in a 5K race that will go through downtown and parts of East Lawrence? I would say if you are still ticked off about the KU-Michigan game, here’s your chance to actually take it out on the ticks. (Yeah, that joke sucked. Most tick jokes do.)
Mark your calendar for 8 a.m. on Saturday, May 11: The Kansas Tick-Borne Disease Advocates will host a race that will begin on Massachusetts Street at South Park, go through downtown to Seventh Street, head into East Lawrence, loop back onto Massachusetts Street at 15th Street and then finish at South Park. Massachusetts Street will be closed for a few minutes at a time as the runners come by in waves.
Several other events either have been approved or are in the process of being approved for the downtown in coming weeks. Here’s a look:
• At 8 a.m. on Monday, May 27 — Memorial Day — organizers will host The Home Run 5K in downtown Lawrence, an event that benefits Family Promise and the Lawrence Community Shelter. Perhaps the Royals pitching staff will participate. They usually are at the scene of a home run. (Yes, I’m a true Royals fan. I know Opening Day is not too early to lose your optimism about the team.)
The race will use the same route as the tick-borne awareness race. City officials, I believe, are trying to convince more events to use that route because it requires fewer resources from the Police Department to control traffic, and it introduces people to the city’s Burroughs Creek Trail that runs through East Lawrence.
• The Tour of Lawrence bicycle races will be back in Lawrence from June 28 through June 30. Once again, the events will happen both downtown and on the KU campus.
On Friday, June 28, downtown will host the Street Sprint portion of the tour. The 700 and 800 blocks of New Hampshire will be closed from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. on June 28. That’s where the sprinting will take place. Eighth Street between New Hampshire and Massachusetts will be closed from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. on June 28. That's where the post-sprint celebrating will take place. The area will have a kids zone and live music, and adult beverages also will be sold.
A word of warning to people who park along New Hampshire Street: Be sure to move your car by 5 p.m. on that day, because towing will take place to ensure the race route is clear. (It's a Friday, so you can tell your boss that it's super critical you be out of the office by 5 p.m. I think I’ll park there.)
On Saturday, June 29, the racing will shift to the KU campus. Several streets on and near the campus will be impacted by the race but none will be completely closed. Here’s a look at that route and others used during the tour.
On Sunday, June 30, the event will finish with a Downtown Criterium, which is kind of like bicycle’s version of NASCAR short track racing, except the pit crews don’t fight at the end of each race. (The spandex must have a calming effect. Maybe NASCAR should try it.) It really is some action-packed racing, and it will require several streets in downtown to be closed from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. That includes much of Massachusetts Street and parts of New Hampshire and Vermont.
As in the past, the event will receive $10,000 from the city’s transient guest tax fund. The event will use the money to help attract elite teams to the race. This year the money also will be used to increase marketing to cyclists in the Chicago and Dallas areas.
• And finally, on the weekend of Sept.14-15, an estimated 2,000 cyclists once again will be camping overnight in downtown Lawrence. The 2013 Bike MS event is set to take place from 6 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 14, to noon Sunday, Sept. 15, in South Park.
In case you don’t remember the event — which will be making its third appearance in Lawrence — it is a fundraiser for the Mid-America Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Near as I can tell, cyclists ride miles and miles — from the Garmin headquarters in Olathe to South Park — to justify partaking in a large beer tent that has been sponsored by an area brewing company in the past. (Personally, I just drink light beer and skip the miles and miles of cycling part.)
In addition to riders coming from the east, a separate group also will be leaving from Topeka to ride to South Park.
The event will require Massachusetts Street from North Park and South Park streets to be closed from 6 a.m. Sept. 14 to noon on Sept. 15. The Community Building Parking lot also will be closed at that time. Both South Park and the Community Building will be used as an overnight “Cycle Village.”
• This last event isn’t a race and it won’t impact traffic in downtown. But I thought I would mention it anyway because it may impact traffic near 27th and Iowa streets. At least it is likely to when my wife is driving by it, becomes distracted by it and uses the Ford Taurus to create a new drive-thru at the nearby Runza restaurant. Beginning April 13 and lasting for the entire week, there will be 5,860 multi-colored flags stuck into the ground near the southeast corner of 27th and Iowa Streets — in front of Landmark Bank and Runza.
The flags — about 20 inches high — will be commemorating the Week of the Young Child. The 5,860 number is meant to be one flag for every child that is in childcare in Lawrence. The flag idea is being put together by Child Care Aware of Northeast and North Central Kansas, a nonprofit group based in Lawrence.
So, don’t be distracted. I’ve warned you. But Runza folks, if you see a maroon Taurus with a driver pointing at the pretty flags, I’d take cover behind the counter.