Ames City Council examines funding for city development


Ward 1 Rep. Gloria Betcher, Ward 2 Rep. Tim Gartin, Ward 3 Rep. Anita Rollins and City Manager Steve Schainker during the regular Ames City Council meeting May 10.

Katherine Kealey

Due to increasing costs, the Ames City Council made adjustments to the Fitch Family Indoor Aquatic Center budget to maintain the council’s vision of energy-efficient water operation. 

The recent estimate from April 2022 amounted to $32.6 million, which is $1.63 million over the available funds of $31 million. 

The shortfall did not put the entire project in jeopardy, but the east addition– which includes a walking track and office space– wasn’t initially included in the plan. Therefore, Council voted to bid on the east addition as an add alternate for the future to allow for quality construction of the indoor aquatic center. Holding construction on the east addition will allow for funding to create a more energy-efficient indoor aquatic center.

The council will be able to approve the east addition if the funding is available when contracts are awarded.

The report also included four bids from construction managers for the project. Story Construction and Henkel Construction had the best request for proposal scores. Story Construction costs amounted to $1.4 million in comparison to Henkel Construction’s bid of $1.09 million. 

The Council voted to pursue business with Story Construction because the company provides more pre-construction services than Heckle Construction. Story Construction has also managed five construction projects all over $20 million. 

The aquatic center will be built where the Iowa Department of Transportation building currently is located at 122 North Oak Ave. City staff presented the Iowa Department of Transportations market value of the property at $2.9 million for the 2.91-acre site. The appraisal did not include reports of any asbestos or hazardous materials on the site. 

The appraised value does not account for any environmental clean-up, and the Department of Transportation is under no obligation to reimburse the city for managing the potential environmental issues. Ward 1 Rep. Gloria Betcher asked how the environmental conditions would be factored into the cost assessment.

“It seems that DOT does not have any responsibility to clean up anything if they find anything,” Betcher said. “So far, we don’t know whether we have found anything or not, so we need to do some more research.”

Betcher was referring to potential unknown factors such as soil contaminants. City staff requested additional time from the council to continue research with construction and environmental experts about the implications of these findings on the development. The council approved extra time for city staff to determine the impacts as quickly as possible.

City staff said soil warnings showed the water table is 7-10 feet below the surface in various areas on the property, which will most likely result in needed work on the foundation. 

Mayor John Haila delivered multiple proclamations including: naming the week of May 9-13, 2022, as Economic Development Week; May 15-21, 2022, as National Public Works Week; and May 15 was recognized as “Peace Officers’ Memorial Day.” 

The month of May was also declared Mental Health Awareness Month. Since the pandemic, one in three adults now report experiencing anxiety and/or depression disorder.

“Whereas we reaffirm our commitment to building our understanding of mental illness, increasing access to treatment and replacing stigma with hope for treatment and recovery,” Haila said. “The focus for mental health awareness month, this May, is to spread the message that good mental health is essential to overall health for each of us.”

After cost increases arose for the Downtown Plaza Plan, city staff returned to the Ames City Council with project modifications to stay within budget and maintain the council’s vision. In the previous meeting, the Ames City Council saw a budget shortfall for the Downtown Plaza Plan of $959,479. 

Ames is in the process of developing a community gathering space between Fifth and Sixth streets, which will include interactive water features, landscaped green space and a winter ice skating rink.

Reductions for construction could amount to $158,900 by eliminating the moonstones, the art wall and converting the custom paver to a stock brand. Reductions outside of construction include replacing the art wall with planting and adding an increase to the fixtures, furnishing and equipment allowance. These changes will result in a net decrease to the contract cost of $74,000. 

These changes would reduce overall expenses by $218,900. The remaining $740,579 will come from the Council Priorities Fund which contains $1 million. City staff informed the council these additions could be included on the Capital Improvement Project.