Asphalt or concrete: a ‘hard choice’ for council

BROOKINGS – On a night when councilors tried to shoot a hole in their own 2014 budget with last-minute gifts and subsidies, and on a night when one councilor obliquely threatened to pull financial support for the SDSU Research Park, the real drama at the Tuesday city council meeting hinged on a single question:  Asphalt or concrete?

The subject was mundane – awarding contracts for trails and parking lots for the new Dakota Nature Park – but wrapped up in the council’s action was the city’s “shop at home” philosophy, the question of whether asphalt or concrete is a better material for the project, and a rejection of the recommendations of both the city manager and the parks and recreation staff.

In the end, the council gave the trails work to Bowes Construction of Brookings – asphalt – and the driveway and parking lots to Clark Drew Construction, also of Brookings – concrete.

The Bowes bid for asphalt trails came to $185,300, nearly $70,000 less than the nearest bid for the work in concrete.

Clark Drew will pour concrete for the driveways and a parking lot at the just-completed nature center, and that work will cost $209,750.

Parks, Recreation and Forestry Director Pete Colson had asked for concrete for both jobs, a choice favored by City Manager Jeff Weldon.  Colson said he felt that concrete could be maintained more easily by his staff.  He also noted that some of the city’s bicycle paths finished in asphalt had fallen into “considerable disrepair,” and concrete might be a better choice for the heavily used park.

For the park trails, Colson and Weldon had recommended a $252,940 bid from Howrey Construction of Rockwell City, Iowa, and for the driveways and parking lot, the Clark Drew bid.

Project Manager Rick Salonen of Banner Associates seemed to lean toward an all-concrete recommendation after factoring in upkeep expenses associated with the materials. But in a letter detailing the project, Salonen explained the pros and cons of each and noted, “based on our evaluation, it is our opinion that either the concrete or asphalt bid could be accepted, depending on your preference of surfacing materials for the park.”

Aware that her company was about to be bypassed for the work, Bowes Vice President Miranda Bowes Peterson took the offensive, writing a letter of rebuttal to the council and visiting Tuesday’s session with the company’s general manager, Charles Siver, and former CEO, Lyle Bowes.

Peterson told the council Salonen had gotten his figures wrong in computing the lifetime maintenance costs of asphalt – and he agreed, changing his figures – and she pointed out that the “lifetime cost estimates” for concrete contained no maintenance costs whatever.

“It is true that to keep an asphalt surface performing at its best, some maintenance is required. The same is true for concrete,” she said in her letter to council.  “I will point to the newly built Camelot School.  The back parking lot is concrete.  Due to failures in the concrete, one-third of the four-year-old lot had to be removed and replaced this summer.  Concrete flakes, cracks, breaks, heaves and pits.  Proper maintenance is required on concrete also to help mitigate the damage from normal usage as well as from the extremities of South Dakota seasons.”

Peterson maintained that even with periodic chip-sealing, choosing asphalt for the projects would save the city tens of thousands of dollars over the life cycle of the trails and parking lot.

Peterson also highlighted the environmental impact of the two materials, pointing out that “asphalt is the most recycled material in the world,” and that the Bowes asphalt would contain 20 percent recycled material in the bottom lift.

“Making not only the fiscally responsible decision but the environmentally responsible one sends a clear message that the welfare of our community and the children growing up in it come first,” she said.

In his remarks, Lyle Bowes maintained that the asphalt is less expensive and just as effective as Portland cement.

“The bigger issue in the asphalt-concrete debate,” he said, “is we can’t find the facts to support the claims made by concrete. People say concrete is a better buy.  I can’t find the facts to support that – lots of opinions, but no facts.”

He produced a study of 300 miles of Interstate highway – asphalt vs. concrete – that showed the cost for concrete was about double that for asphalt.

“We’re taxpaying citizens,” Bowes said. “We also realize our responsibility in talking to the city on the issue of asphalt and concrete.  We’re all talking about savings here, where we can find this money….. This is significant to the budget of Brookings, South Dakota.”

Peterson added, “We’ve got this ‘Think Local’ campaign which I appreciate as a local business owner … We are a local company and have been since before I was born.  My grandpa actually built the roads here long before me.  A vote for Howrey Construction and concrete is a vote for an Iowa contractor, and a vote to spend $68,000 more on a product that we feel would not hold up as well.”

When the discussion wrapped up and Mayor Tim Reed called for a motion on the contract, Councilor Keith Corbett surprised the council by bypassing the prepared resolution awarding the contract to Howrey and specifying instead that the contract go to Bowes.

The council voted 7-0 to give the trails project to Bowes.

While the councilors were swayed by the Bowes arguments, they apparently weren’t fully convinced that asphalt is the best for the parking lot and driveways.  Jael Thorpe moved that Bowes get that project as well, but the vote was 3-4 against. The measure was reintroduced to award the contract to Clark Drew Construction, and that passed 7-0.

The council spent a significant part of its three-hour meeting Tuesday discussing whether to award extra money to the Boys & Girls Club of Brookings for its expansion project and late in the meeting reviewed its continuing financial commitment to the Research Park.

8/28/2013-The Brookings Register, story by Ken Curley

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