LEC ramp analysis questioned

Alexis Barker

Alexis Barker

NLJ News Editor


Weston Count Commissioners Marty Ertman and Nathan Todd are adamant that a second opinion on the replacement of the stairs and ramp at the Weston County Law Enforcement Center is needed after Structural Dynamics provided two letters, months apart, that contradicted each other. 

Because of questions about the accuracy of the company’s analysis – and the desire to explore alternative options to ramp access – the commissioners decided to reconsider the whole replacement plan.

The issue came to the forefront of the commissioners’ meetings in March when Chairman Tony Barton reported that during a recent visit with Structural Dynamics at the law enforcement center, it was stated by Structural Dynamics that the replacement of the ramp and stairs needed to be completed before the 2019-20 winter season. He explained that the company found that some of the rebar beneath the concrete had deteriorated badly and could collapse. 

During the Dec. 3 commissioners meeting, Ertman said that while the group met with Structural Dynamics engineer Phil Hohn that the Feb. 22 letter from the company stated, “We recommend that all portions of the stairs and elevated ramp be replaced as soon as possible and in no case should the use of the ramp be extended into the 2019-2020 winter without an in-depth structural assessment to insure adequate structural capacity.” 

Months after the February letter, on Aug. 20, Commissioners Ed Wagoner and Tracy Hunt, along with Barton, voted to let bids to install a heated concrete ramp at the law enforcement center after four potential options were prepared and presented by Structural Dynamics. 

At this time, Ertman suggested that the county go to the State Loan and Investment Board for grant monies because the costs associated with the repairs were estimated at $250,000. It was determined that, as Hunt said, putting the repairs off would “paint ourselves into a corner this winter.” Hunt, Barton and Wagoner voted to let the bids. 

Less than a month later, on Sept. 16, a letter was received by the commissioners from Structural Dynamics outlining reasons to delay the bid process on the ramp and stairs project at the law enforcement center. 

The letter said that the “current schedule is not favorable” to get the entrance ramp and stairs replaced before the upcoming winter season. 

“Starting construction work this late in the season would entail considerable risk for cost increases and schedule delays related to cold weather and construction issues,” the letter said. 

And this is just the point reiterated by Hohn during the Dec. 3 meeting with the Weston County Commissioners. 

Hohn said that in the Feb. 22 letter “red flags” and “aggressive” wording were used to keep the topic in the forefront of conversations. 

“We put strong language to keep the topic on the burner. Some clients set aside and forget about it if we don’t raise the red flags and be aggressive in our wording,” Hohn said. 

Ertman asked if the September letter was considered an “in-depth structural assessment” because according to Structural Dynamics’ February letter, the ramp and stairs should not be used through the winter without one. 

Hohn stated that it was not an in-depth structural assessment and that the company’s opinion on the ramp has not changed. The company still believes it needs to be replaced. 

“The main reason for the letter in September was to act in the county’s interest,” Hohn said. “It was just our own assumption. We realized and we know that the cost to replace it in the winter is going to be considerably higher and that is where we are at with that.” 

He noted that he feels there is no need to further assess the ramp and stairs and that the company’s opinion will remain that it should be replaced as soon as possible. 

“The big thing is when we wrote the letter in February, we didn’t know where the thing was going to be at in the end of 2019,” Hohn said. “We were seeing deterioration and once you get to that point things start moving a little faster. … So, when September rolled around and we go back out there and actually see where we’re at, I am not seeing a whole lot of difference from February to September or even today. … It is still in a bad state, but it hasn’t gotten any worse.” 

He noted that the appropriate next step would be getting the final design prepared so it can be drawn and put out to bid. 

Hohn said that the idea originally chosen by the commissioners involved is something similar to what is there currently but with design features that will help to increase the longevity of the ramp. He noted that concrete structures have an anticipated life of 40 years, and the structure at the law enforcement center has been there for 36.
According to Hohn, the structure can make it through the 2019-20 winter months as long as it is checked regularly. 

“It is not ideal going back on the February letter, but we accept blame for that and we apologize. We can keep an eye on it,” Hohn said, noting that people should avoid traveling under the structure. 

“We have moved forward and then walked back. We can put it out to request for proposal and apply for a grant. I am more comfortable if we choose to move forward,” Barton said. “If we want to move forward with another engineering firm, I would like to see us do something.” 

Ertman said that she has no issue moving forward but that the county had missed the January deadline for the
SLIB meeting and will have to wait until June to be approved for funding. 

“What I was going after was a second opinion. We have two conflicting opinions. That leaves us with little, and I don’t know where we are,” Ertman said, noting that she is not comfortable moving forward until the county has gotten that second opinion.

Commissioner Nathan Todd added that he would be comfortable with the commissioners seeking another assessment, especially if the cost was similar to the $4,500 charged by Structural Dynamics for the initial assessment. 

“I am not opposed to it, and I don’t know if the decision needs to be made today. According to this man, we got all winter to figure it out, even though there is a question to the accuracy of that,” Todd said. 

Todd then questioned the potential for eliminating the ramp altogether in favor of another access for the handicapped. It was noted by Hunt that they had never gone down that road and considered anything other than replacing the ramp and stairs. 

“What you are talking about is something I haven’t considered,” Hunt said, noting that he hadn’t considered an elevator because he assumed the expenses would be higher. 

“It might be worth getting another set of plans,” Todd said. 

Ertman said that the commissioners have until April to withdraw their application to the SLIB board and that either way the funding is still needed. 

“We can certainly ask for our application to be changed in some way if instead of going with a ramp we go for an elevator,” Ertman said. “It would be interesting to know if there are other alternatives. 

Hunt, although he supported the idea of considering all potential options, did conclude that he was not in support of the commissioners getting a second opinion. Ertman argued that the qualification wasn’t met. 

“I guess what I’m saying is I don’t think we need a second opinion. We end up letting our paranoia run our rationality if we do. The engineer says it’s okay,” Hunt said. 

Ertman argued that previously the commission, with the exception of Barton, voted to get a second opinion. Barton clarified that they voted to go to RFP but the commission would need another vote to accept it. 

In the end, no official decisions were made and the commission decided to leave the topic on old business to be discussed further in the future.


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