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Delays, quality issues cause Finance Committee to question work on rec complex

By Sue Sitter - | Nov 28, 2020

Sue Sitter/PCT A fresh blanket of snow covers unfinished drain tile work on sports fields at the Rugby recreation complex.

Problems encountered with a drain project for the Rugby Recreation complex topped a list of matters reviewed by the City of Rugby Finance Committee in a virtual meeting held Nov. 18.

Members of the Finance Committee expressed concern about timeliness and work quality on a drain tile project at the complex that could impact the city’s recreation program in June.

Finance Committee member Wayne Trottier said he had inspected the work on the grounds near the complex recently.

“It’s far from complete,” Trottier noted. “I don’t know if you’ve gone out there or not, mayor, but it’s far from complete. The east side with the open field area, they’re still open trenches there. Not all the way down, but there’s still fill that needs to be put in there.”

Mayor Sue Steinke agreed.

“There’s a lot of dirt piled up there that needs to be put in. I made the comment to Mr. Berg that he needed to encourage the contractor to backfill and get things filled in, because as we all know, that dirt is going to settle,” Steinke said, adding, “If we wait until spring and just sow some grass over it, that’s not adequate. We know that if the dirt settles, we’re going to have to put some more dirt on top before the grass can be seeded or sod is laid, otherwise, we’re just going to have a wavy seal.”

Trottier said poor work quality on the ball diamonds and fields could pose a liability for the city due to players tripping on uneven ground.

City Auditor Jennifer Stewart told the committee no documentation of the agreed-upon sod tile replacement work existed beyond invoices. Stewart said the contractor, Austin Harles of Drain Services Inc., Fargo, had received $2,500 from the city as of the meeting date. Stewart said the city paid $7,300 for the sod tiles used in the project. The total cost of the project was estimated at $41,000.

The committee reviewed emails documenting delays in the project that pushed the anticipated completion date to next spring. Information indicated a plan to pull up sod from the baseball diamonds and replace it, but freezing weather later killed the grass in the sod.

“I’ve lived in North Dakota all my life. I know there’s a time of year when we stop outdoor projects because of freezing and thawing and things not growing right,” said committee member Jackie Albrecht. “This is being finished awfully late in the year, and he thinks he’s going to come in still yet and do something?”

“He was going to save the sod,” Steinke said. “All the sod is frozen. The sod is done.”

Albrecht also asked why Harles had not appeared before the city council to answer questions about the project.

Steinke said recreation committee member Joel Berg “believes 90 percent of this project is done and that he will be back in the spring and there will be a rec program by June 1. The other committee members were less confident about that and I am less confident of that.”

“I just don’t see this completed by June 1,” Trottier said. “There’s no way. Do we possibly have a criminal case here?”

“We have a possible civil case, I would think, against (Harles),” Steinke said.

The committee also mentioned financial issues and charges connected with allowing Harles the use of the city’s skid steer loading equipment, which complicated the bill for the work.

Stewart told the committee the city would suffer an economic loss if the recreation complex were unusable for summer programs. “We may not be able to offer income opportunities for people hired for temporary summer help,” she noted.

The committee voted to withhold further payments to Drain Tile Inc. until the matter could be discussed with the full city council.

The committee also discussed a future policy change to cover purchasing and bidding procedures for smaller projects such as the drain tile work.

In other business, the finance committee voted to approve the purchase of two used dump trucks fitted with new dump boxes and hoists for a combined cost of $131,000.

The committee also approved a distribution of $50 in Rugby Bucks to each city employee for the holidays in lieu of a Christmas party. The funds would come from a scrap metal fund held by the city. No taxpayer funds would be used for the gifts.

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