What's wrong with Oak Park's $30 million public works center?

Village hall considers lawsuit against builders to recoup costs of $235K fix-up


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By Marty Stempniak

Staff Reporter

This fall marks four years since Oak Park opened its massive $30 million public works center, at 201 South Blvd. But already the village is finding issues with the facility and is considering suing the architect or construction company to recoup the $235,000 it's going to cost to fix it.

With heavy trucks driving in and out of the building, Oak Park expected some wear and tear, just not this soon, according to Public Works Director John Wielebnicki. The village has hired a Northbrook-based consultant to put the facility under a microscope and figure out what needs to be repaired.

Trustees OK'd an $84,575 contract with Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates last month to perform that work. According village documents, WJE believes the first floor of the building is not designed to support three loaded trucks parked next to each other. If such an occurrence was to happen, "the first floor could fail."

Wielebnicki said it's rare to see three trucks lined up in such a manner. But just as a precaution, public works is starting to paint stripes on the floors, install signs and advise supervisors not to bunch trucks together.

"The building is safe. I just want to make sure we're aware of these conditions. Safety is our number-one priority," Wielebnicki said.

When the public works building was under construction in 2005, cracking and chipping was noticed near some of the horizontal concrete beams where they crossed the foundation walls. The village had the contractor and architect fix those problems at that time, but they want to make sure those repairs have held up to the ravages of time, Wielebnicki told Wednesday Journal in June.

Carl Peterson, a principal with WJE, did not return calls seeking comment. But fixes his company has devised include reinforcing some "steel bearing plates" that the contractor put in to keep the first floor from failing, and repairing two layers of the first floor that are separating from each other.

It's still too early to say who, exactly, is responsible for the issues at the public works center. Oak Park is currently having WJE dig through drawings to see if it was an error made by the contractor, Mortenson, or the architect, Holabird & Root. Wielebnicki thinks one or both of the companies might be at fault, while the two companies reportedly believe what's happening is regular wear and tear.

Calls to representatives from Mortenson and Holabird & Root were not returned. Mortenson has been responsive to the village's requests for more information, while Holabird has not, according to officials.

Wielebnicki confirmed that village trustees and staff have privately discussed the possibility of suing one or both of the companies to recoup costs for the $235,000 repairs. Repairs are expected to be completed over the next two years, according to village documents.

Reader Comments

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Posted: August 5th, 2011 5:34 PM

I take it back. The story I commented on was about The Village looking into its legal costs. Mine and J Murtagh's posts are still there. Sorry for the mix up.


Posted: August 5th, 2011 1:04 PM

You are correct John, I had a post after yours that was removed. It didnt seem to violate any rules or comment policy. I commended you on you accepting responsibility and apologizing.

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: August 5th, 2011 11:59 AM

Thanks Epic for helping clear this up. It now appears that David Pope's two threads were copied from the editorial to DPW site yesterday. I assume it was David who did this. Why, who knows?

epic lulz  

Posted: August 5th, 2011 2:58 AM

@john, perhaps you're confusing two different threads. Your comments can be found here: http://www.oakpark.com/News/Articles/08-02-2011/A_disturbing_trend

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: August 5th, 2011 1:14 AM

Perhaps the disappearing posts are a technical error. Perhaps they are selective censorship. Either way, the reliability and credibility of the WJ blog are questionable.

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: August 5th, 2011 1:09 AM

I responded to Pres Pope with two postings immediately after he had sent them. They stayed on the site for a day and disappeared. To summarize me posts, I stated that perhaps I was wrong about a deal with the retiring village attorney but that my thoughts were feasible. He had been on the job for 30 years and had his finger in every deal. My second e-mail answered his e-mail said the WJ quote was probably in error or a misquote. I wrote that that seemed to be a problem to take up with the WJ

David Pope from Oak Park  

Posted: August 4th, 2011 11:58 PM

The reason I say this is I was obviously here at the time, and I have never heard anyone suggest any shortcomings in oversight on the part of the Village on this. Ever. The basic facts are the Village hired Holabird & Root to design a building that would hold many heavy trucks and Mortenson to construct a building that would hold many heavy trucks (without cracking or failing). The cracking is either a design or construction problem, or both, and the responsible party will be made to correct it.

David Pope from Oak Park  

Posted: August 4th, 2011 11:56 PM

@John - I had the same reaction as you to that sentence. However, reading between the lines, it seems most likely that Marty (or Dan) took some liberties in their phrasing. In other words, I can easily imagine someone at "Village Hall" saying 'I don't know b/c I wasn't here at the time' and for the WJ editorial writer to turn it into "... implying that any shortcomings were the responsibility of a previous administration and board."


Posted: August 4th, 2011 10:26 PM

Those who are legends in their own minds are incapable of admitting error.

Shameonu from Oak Park  

Posted: August 3rd, 2011 3:22 PM

Shame Shame Shame, The Public Works Director was fully aware of this waste of money. He is the one that should be held responsible.

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: August 3rd, 2011 1:53 AM

WJ Aug 3 editorial states "Village hall is also put in the uncomfortable position of implying that any shortcomings in oversight were the responsibility of a previous administration and board." Uncomfortable to say the least, two of our most prominent board members were in office when the building was planned, ground broken (both prominently pictured with shovel), and the grand opening. They could probably provide some background for the WJ.


Posted: August 2nd, 2011 11:38 PM

I do not believe Bee. I think Bee is telling a fib.


Posted: August 2nd, 2011 11:53 AM

ALL of the top level management at Public Works was fully aware of the building's flaws, BEFORE it was completed. They simply turned away. They also knew the diesel fumes leaked from the first floor garage up into the office area. It was brought to their attention, verbally and in writing, and they refused to address it properly. Additionally, they pretend to be 'green' but use toxic chemicals for cleaning, and more. THAT was also brought to their attention and they replied with sarcasm.


Posted: August 1st, 2011 11:23 PM

Im sure Lyn Kessen or Lewis Carmichael would have made the rain go away. LoL

Dave from Oak Park  

Posted: August 1st, 2011 7:21 PM

"Wait wait..." would be funny if not so true. When the moon-faced I'm-a-liberal-so-don't-really-have-to-deal-with-reality sheep of Oak Park decide that maybe the problem is they don't vote, don't want to be bothered with voting, don't really want democracy here, maybe then this same screw up will stop happening. VMA is the problem. When are the people of Oak Park going to hold VMA accountability for its failure to provide good, creative government? Aren't we all brighter than this?

Wait wait, don't tell me.... from Oak Park  

Posted: August 1st, 2011 12:54 PM

Let's focus on what's important to Oak Parkers: How many working poor families can it hold? Or maybe the Irving school kids can play inside it? Wait, no, it's a perfect gymnastics center. Can we cap the Ike with it somehow? Maybe it can be the new Ridgeland Common? Maybe we can make it a pay parking lot and fix our revenue hole? Can Poor Phil's move there temporarily? PADS shelter!

It isn't easy being...oh nevermind from OP  

Posted: August 1st, 2011 12:50 PM

How sustainable is a "green building" that has fundamental structural flaws and will soon not be needed due to outsourcing of the positions? Green Uneccessary = Unnecessary and Wasteful. Oak Park in a nutshell, dontca think?

Budget Wonk from Oak Park  

Posted: August 1st, 2011 9:57 AM

The Public Works Center is mostly one huge, indoor, multi-level underground salt storage and parking facility to house nearly every village vehicle, which has to be ventilated and temperature-controlled at great energy cost. The notion that it is a 'green building' is a joke, played upon the public by David Pope and his buddy, Gary Cuneen of Seven Generations Ahead. The village would have been wiser to focus on good design, rather than bad 'green design'.

Dan in OP  

Posted: August 1st, 2011 9:29 AM

How can the floor not be designed to hold 3 loaded trucks next to each other? I remember that bridges are designed to assume the entire span is holding a traffic jam of loaded trucks stacked 3 high, a weight that can never actually occur. Maybe everybody was too worried about minimum code requirements and building green rather than building strong.

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: July 31st, 2011 10:15 PM

Silly, what silly person told you that there are defects that only arise upon use of the building? If it was an engineer, have his or her license checked.


Posted: July 31st, 2011 9:53 PM

It would seem that these "issues" can only be detected once the building has been lived in. Not sure an inspector would have been able to see these issue ahead of time.


Posted: July 31st, 2011 9:32 PM

Blunder after blunder after blunder. In these hard econonic times we residents are expected to accept cutbacks yet no accountablility at village hall? Please, I do not want to hear the board standing up for what is wrong all the time. Admit it and address it.

I So Shame! from Oak Park  

Posted: July 31st, 2011 9:27 PM

Building specs? I so shame! http://www.alacartoon.com/home/i-so-shame

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: July 31st, 2011 7:41 PM

Public Works director Wielebnicki has proposed that VOP privatize many, if not all, public works operations. The trustees may soon be faced with question about what to do with an empty $30 million building.

Too Easy  

Posted: July 31st, 2011 6:32 PM

Why has it been so easy for incompetent and/or unscrupulous architects & builders to put problem projects on various properties around Oak Park? Can anyone recall one of the recent building projects - last five or six years, that wasn't later deemed to be unsound or unsafe? Whether or not we sue to recover damages aside, if I am on the village board, I have to wonder what got us into this pickle in the first place. Are we capable and competent with regard to understanding the buildi

Pattern of Behavior from OP  

Posted: July 30th, 2011 5:42 PM

So who spent the $30 million without making sure it could do what it was supposed to do? No inspection? This seems to be an ongoing theme in OP these days --"we paid a lot and now it doesn't appear to be safe." Apparently the Village bothering to show some basic accountability for tax dollars is just too much effort.

epic lulz  

Posted: July 29th, 2011 9:50 PM

"What's there to discuss." Whether a suit would be cost effective, I imagine. Cf, D200's suit against the VOP.


Posted: July 29th, 2011 9:26 PM

Is the building a saftey risk to those who work there?

Alberg from Oak Park  

Posted: July 29th, 2011 4:23 PM

For $30 million, they could sell the gold doorknobs and recoup some of the money. Who was doing the inspection for this work? Maybe they were busy inspecting the Whiteco work on the Holly Court garage.

What's the discussion about?  

Posted: July 29th, 2011 3:50 PM

Discussing the possibility? What's there to discuss.

Editor from Oak Park  

Posted: July 29th, 2011 3:32 PM

?"issues at the public works center." "the village is finding issues with the facility" Exchange the word issue, with problem, and notice the difference a word can make, when used correctly. "problems at the public works center." "the village is finding problems with the facility" Doesn't using problem really identify the seriousness of this issue?

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