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.

avatar

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Des Moines.

More Des Moines stories

No stories could be found

Des Moinespostcard

Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Des Moines.