Jul 6, 2021 - News
Des Moines OKs Witmer Park project despite concerns about contractor
A sign that reads "City of Des Moines Witmer Park"
Drake and Beaverdale neighborhood leaders helped raise money for a new playground and bathroom facilities that will be added to Witmer Park in the next year. Photo: Jason Clayworth/Axios

Des Moines last week approved a nearly $560K improvement plan for Witmer Park, despite objections about a contractor that several council members argue is involved in botched metro-area projects.

Why it matters: It's taxpayer money. When government projects go bad, it can cost a lot more than the lowest bidder's initial contract.

Driving the news: Graphite Construction — which is owned by Russell Carew of Urbandale — was hired last week as the contractor for the new Witmer playground and restroom project.

  • Two council members — Joe Gatto and Bill Gray — voiced concerns about Graphite during a council meeting last week and referenced past work by Rochon Corp., which is the same company owned by Carew. (It’s a pointed discussion that starts at the 2-hour mark.)

Flashback: DSM and Urbandale hired Rochon last year to work on new fire stations, but officials from both cities contend some of the work wasn't completed properly.

  • Rochon fixed the DSM problems, but mediation is pending in Urbandale — where the city and the contractor are at odds about $154K in repairs.

What he's saying: Graphite/Rochon has a solid track record as reflected by DSM engineering staff's Witmer recommendation, Carew told Jason yesterday.

  • The Urbandale case is complicated and can't be discussed because of pending mediation, which Carew said his company pursued.

The big picture: A 2017 state law that set standards for contracting public improvement projects limits a local government's ability to reject bidders by restricting access to their qualifications.

  • The city's legal staff cited the law when recommending DSM should not consider the pending mediation in Urbandale when reviewing the Witmer Park bid.

The bottom line: State rules can hamstring DSM's choices despite contractors' possible flaws, said Councilman Joe Gatto, one of the two who challenged Graphite's bid.

What's next: Witmer's new playground and bathroom are expected to be completed by late spring 2022.

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