$485,000 ‘project from hell’ now costs even more at City Hall

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An elaborate wheelchair-accessible ramp to the City Council chambersbankrolled by $485,000 in tax-increment-financing (TIF) funds has gotteneven more costly—thanks to a string of contractor mistakes.Sources said the slope of the Z-shaped ramp was a fraction of an inch toosteep, forcing Wight & Co. to sand it down to make it right. Photo By Fran Spielman

An elaborate wheelchair-accessible ramp to the City Council chambers bankrolled by $485,000 in tax-increment-financing funds has gotten even more costly – thanks to a string of contractor mistakes.

Sources said the slope of the Z-shaped ramp was a fraction of an inch too steep, forcing Wight & Co. to sand it down to make it right.

In addition, there were gaps between panes of glass that fill the space between the brass handrail and the floor. And the handrail was wobbly and had sharp edges that could have cut someone.

David Reynolds, commissioner of the city’s newly-merged Department of General Services and Fleet Management, insisted that the mistakes were made by Wight and that the contractor would eat the cost of completing the ramp.

City employees call it the “project from hell” because of the exorbitant cost and the months it has taken to complete.

“There were a few things the contractor did that didn’t meet our liking. The slope wasn’t quite right. The way the glass was installed – we weren’t satisfied with it,” Reynolds said.

“We’ve told the contractor they haven’t satisfied the requirements of the job. The repairs they’re doing, the fixes they’re doing [are] all part of the base contract. None of this is costing [taxpayers] more.”

Officials at Darien-based Wight & Co. could not be reached for comment.

Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) has complained that the ramp money was taken from his LaSalle-Central TIF without his approval by city officials who contend TIF money can be used to renovate government buildings without aldermanic consent.

What angered Reilly is not just that the project was costly and that the money was siphoned from his TIF, but the fact that there already was a ramp to the Council chambers that, he contended, “functioned rather well.”

Reynolds countered, “My understand was it was too steep and too long and there was a wall at the end of it…I don’t think anyone demanded [a new ramp]. Our department, working with the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities. felt it was important for the city to lead by example.”

As for the sky-high cost, Reynolds blamed it on the fact that City Hall is a landmark and that any work inside the building needs to be “consistent with the look” of City Hall.

“Yeah, you could buy a house in the suburbs for the same price, but it’ll last for 30 years. This is something we expect to last as long as City Hall lasts,” Reynolds said.

“It costs more than you would expect to do this ramp because of the high quality we’re demanding. Any time you work in a historical building that’s gonna see a lot of traffic, the quality has to go up. That’s why we’re being so exacting with the contractor now.”

Karen Tamley, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, has argued that the old ramp did not comply with the Americans for Disabilities Act (ADA).

With a grade of 13 percent and a length of 22 feet, it was too steep for people with disabilities who use wheelchairs to navigate without assistance.

The new, Z-shaped ramp is 36 ft., three inches long and built at an 8.3 percent grade.

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