Dyster's Train Station Debacle Mirrors City Courthouse Fiasco
By Mike Hudson
A costly chain of suspiciously coincidental events is playing out at the extreme north end of Main Street courtesy of Mayor Paul Dyster and his Intermodal Transportation Center.
You see, the Intermodal Transportation Center - or "train station" as mere mortals call such things - is over budget by $2.5 million and it hasn't even broken ground.
Mayor Dyster, Tom DeSantis and Wendel Duchsherer Engineers were paid $160,000 to prepare a bid and put the $26 million project out to bid in the fall of 2013, but the low bidder came in $2.5 million over Dyster's budget.
As a result Dyster, Tom DeSantis, and Wendel Duchsherer tossed the bids overboard and waved goodbye to low bidder, Scrufari Construction. Scrufari is a respected Niagara Falls company with a solid reputation earned over the course of more than 100 years in the construction business. Worth noting is that Ciminelli Construction of Buffalo finished in second place.
Never mind how reputable Scrufari may be, the job, said Dyster, has to be re-bid. So Wendel is lined up to receive an additional $350,000 to do the mayor's re-bidding. The resolution authorizing the $350,000 contract is up for vote at today's (Jan. 21) council meeting. It should prove to be a most interesting item as it goes to vote.
And that's because the facts surrounding the costly Main Street train station are now beginning to mirror the facts surrounding the 2008 -09 building of the costly Main Street courthouse by Ciminelli Construction. Those similarities are quite fascinating.
Mayor Dyster took office in January of 2008, and the first personnel move he made was to fire city engineer Bob Curtis, a respected engineering professional. With Curtis gone, and without a city engineer on the job to protect the city's interests, Dyster then hired Li Ro Engineers. David Jaros, a friend of the mayor, was the company contact, overseeing the courthouse construction. Li Ro was paid $14,500 per month for the 18 months of construction. The courthouse project eventually totaled out at a staggering $46.5 million.
The courthouse came in at 30 percent over its original estimated cost and the mayor cut the ribbon in June 2009 on a building that blended numerous construction defects with a breathtaking sticker price.
Piping in the ceilings leaked fluid on judges' desks, ventilation on the police firing range was faulty, jail cells were improperly installed and flooded, and more. The repairs cost the city additional dollars, instead of costing the builder, and Li Ro was paid more money to oversee repairs to work that had gone bad on their watch the first time around.
It was sort of like screwing up a train station bid the first time for $160,000 and then charging an additional $350,000 to get it right the second time.
The history of the building of the courthouse is a lesson in bad governance with a legacy for the taxpayers in the form of a yearly mortgage payment of $2.4 million for 30 years, plus about $500,000 to maintain it annually.
It should be noted that the mayor took $4.5 million from 2013 casino cash to close the city's 2014 budget gap. Dyster's costly courthouse is the gift that will keep on giving. for the next three decades.
With an endless flow of work change orders, cost bump-ups, and a curious downgrading of courthouse building materials, the end-result now sits on Main Street like the yellow brick behemoth it is. The building defies categorization by any known architectural school as it greedily sucks taxpayer dollars for mortgage, maintenance, and repair.
Just up the street to the north, Dyster is preparing to re-bid his train station. He does so while the city is at a disadvantage of having no city engineer to protect the taxpayer interest. That's because Paul Dyster fired the city engineer last year.
Not to worry because Dyster - surprise, surprise- is preparing to re-hire his friend David Jaros as the city's engineering consultant. You see, since Dyster fired city engineer Jeffrey Skurka in 2013, the city has been engineer-less. Much the same way he made sure the city was engineer-less when he fired Bob Curtis before building the courthouse.
Jaros, it is worth noting, no longer works for LiRo. He is now working for Clark Patterson Lee Engineers. Mayor Dyster is going to recommend, at today's council meeting, that the council hire his friend's company at a minimum cost of $94,000 per year. The contract will automatically be renewable for a second year when its first year ends. This is all pretty convenient because two years of David Jaros on the city dole would perfectly fit the train station's two-year construction timetable.
All Dyster needs now is to make sure the new bidding ensures that Ciminelli gets the contract and we will have an exact replica of the courthouse project.
With ground not yet broken, the train station is already millions of dollars over budget. And, shockingly enough, there are no estimated expenses - by Dyster and DeSantis' own admission - as to what it will cost the city to own and operate the transportation facility once the ribbon is cut.
To the eye of the careful observer it does appear as if cost and accountability to the taxpayer have not the slightest role to play in Dyster's City Hall. Indeed, it does look as if both courthouse and train station have been designed to cost and cost and cost…buildings we never needed at prices we could never afford.
|Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr.||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||
Jan 21, 2014