St. Clair Shores contracts with three separate firms for engineering

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published September 24, 2021

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ST. CLAIR SHORES — Ending a five-year contract one year early, the city of St. Clair Shores will work with three separate firms to provide engineering services, a decision reflecting the amount of work to be done and also the desire to use the firm with the most expertise for each individual job.

Hubbell, Roth & Clark was hired by the city in 2017 after St. Clair Shores fired Anderson, Eckstein and Westrick from the job. But over the past couple years, St. Clair Shores city officials said they began to have problems with HRC, as well.

“Over the last couple years since I’ve been here, we noticed some deficiencies occurring,” said City Manager Matthew Coppler in an interview Sept. 8. “We’ve had some issues that we felt that, when we questioned them, we found out that maybe things weren’t done to the level that we wanted them to (be).

“We’re looking for people that have a lot of experience in doing the things that we wanted to do, have a lot of knowledge, that work the way that we believe an engineering firm should represent the city of St. Clair Shores.”

Requests for quotes were solicited for new engineering firms in March on the Michigan Intergovernmental Trade Network (MITN). A sub-committee that included city councilmen John Caron and Ron Frederick, City Manager Matthew Coppler, Department of Public Works Director Bryan Babcock, and Community Development and Inspection Director Chris Rayes reviewed the eight proposals submitted and interviewed five firms in July. The sub-committee reviewed each proposal and unanimously recommended awarding contracts to Hennessey Engineers and Fishbeck Engineers. The committee also voted 4-1, with Caron opposed, to recommend the city enter into a contract with AEW.

At its Sept. 7 meeting, City Council voted unanimously to enter into contracts with Hennessey Engineers and Fishbeck Engineers. Members voted 4-3 on the AEW contract, with Caron, Councilwoman Candice Rusie and Councilman Chris Vitale opposed.

Coppler said that, for a city the size of St. Clair Shores, having just one engineering firm on contract was not the best practice.

“Other cities our size have multiple engineers that they work with,” he said. “It’s going to make us more flexible so we can, hopefully, react to things that we need to take care of.”

It also gives the city the opportunity to ask each firm what timeline would be possible to get a specific project completed more quickly, he said, and allow the city to give work to the firm that is best suited to the project, when possible.

St. Clair Shores is also hiring a new in-house engineer who, in addition to doing some work the city was contracting out, will be able to supervise and allocate work to each of the three engineering firms, as well as take the burden of overseeing some construction projects off the Community Development and Inspection Department.

If any of the firms fail to meet expectations, the contracts provide either party the opportunity to give 30 days’ written notice to terminate the contract.

Hennessey Engineers had taken over many HRC projects when that firm was dismissed, Rayes explained at the meeting. They have been working with the city since about March.

“We’ve really had our roots in municipal engineering,” said Vice President John Hennessey. “There’s not much about municipal engineering we haven’t seen. Our goal is to improve the quality of life (within) the community that we work with.”

Fishbeck Engineers Vice President Dave Potter told City Council the firm has offices in multiple states but also has a lot of local experience.

And a representative from AEW, Executive Vice President Scott Lockwood, said the firm works with “virtually every community that surrounds St. Clair Shores,” so they have local experience and institutional knowledge that will be of benefit to the city.

“I believe we are better today than we were in 2016,” he said. “We thoroughly care about the communities that we work in.”

Caron, however, went through a litany of problems he had from the city’s past experiences with AEW. The firm provided the city with engineering services for more than 20 years before its dismissal in 2017. He had problems with the firm not noticing and fixing problems in the field, being unable to answer questions of council and being unable to provide explanations for why certain projects should be done a certain way.

Along with pointing out that some streets were paved with driveway approaches that were too steep, or had inclines and declines at nearly every driveway due to a misinterpretation of handicap ramp standards, he brought up the fact that original estimates for the 10 Mile relief sewer project didn’t include the cost to hook into the Jefferson interceptor. Caron also said he believes having local institutional knowledge should have meant the firm would know the makeup of the soil under the road.

Costs on that project ballooned from an initial estimate of $1.5 million to a final cost of $2.9 million after the means of construction — a microtunneling method that was meant to cost 20% less by saving the pavement, and was also meant to save trees on the street — ended up running into problems with large obstructions and boulders in the way of the microboring process.

“With all of that, that’s why I seriously question why we’d want to go back,” he said. “It’s an engineering company that doesn’t learn.”

Frederick, however, said he hoped AEW would be even more focused on details for work in St. Clair Shores after being dismissed in 2017.

“Everybody makes mistakes. You make changes, you change people, you change processes, and that’s what I heard at the interview,” he said. “If I was a company that made some mistakes, I would be even more careful with the next contract. To me, that’s the person I want.”

The new firms will begin working with St. Clair Shores for projects slated to begin in 2022.