Did developer err in building Oak Park public garage?

Whiteco may have to foot the bill for repairs at Holley Court

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By Marty Stempniak

Staff Reporter

Ever since September, a consultant has had the Holley Court garage in Oak Park under a microscope. Part of the massive structure is cracking and crumbling and the engineer is trying to figure out why.

The village's contract with the consultant was originally $13,400. But the work has proved to be more involved than originally expected, and after a third a change to the contract last week, Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates is up to $60,000 for assessment of the garage, which is located at Harlem and Ontario.

The engineering firm will inspect Holley Court twice a month, and design "temporary shoring" at 10 different spots there, according to the most recent change in their contract.

The Holley Court Garage was originally built in 1984. It has been expanded several times to reach its current capacity of 1,213 spaces, including the west addition, built in 2006 at a cost of about $13.4 million. Village hall provided funds for the expansion, which developer Whiteco Residential oversaw. That is where the cracks are forming.

Village Manager Tom Barwin said Oak Park is currently holding conversations with Whiteco, looking to get the Merrillville, Ind.-based developer to cover any repairs needed at the garage.

"When we pay a company to do a project for us, I think it's a fair expectation that, just four years after it's completed, the thing should be in darn-near perfect condition," Barwin said.

He wasn't sure yet exactly what work needs to be done, but said Oak Park hopes to have a repair plan and an agreement with Whiteco in the next 30 days. In the meantime, 120 spaces in the garage have been shut down during the assessment.

A call to the head of Whiteco, Tim Connelly, on Monday was not returned immediately. In January, the consultant deferred all questions to village hall.

Oak Park had till Monday to respond to a Wednesday Journal Freedom of Information Act request for all correspondence between the consultant, village and Whiteco, but, instead, asked for an extra five days.

Greg Marsey, a village trustee from 2003 to 2007, who campaigned against the Whiteco tower, was "disappointed" to hear about the problems Oak Park is having at Holley Court.

"Bottom line is no garage structure should be falling down within five years of being built," he said. "Something was not done correctly."

Reader Comments

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OP Resident  

Posted: March 11th, 2011 10:58 PM

David Pope promised Oak Park residents that the hotel deal is a "Win-Win" for the Village!

epic lulz from OP  

Posted: March 11th, 2011 7:48 PM

Ah, a crumbling parking garage that the Trustees paid a preferred developer tens of millions for is nothing. Wait til the Trustees get that Comedy Club and Bowling Alley they're angling for. Those will involve some seriously hilarious blow back. Nice to see the AG smack down the Board for violating the law. Is it too much to hope that the US Attorney's office might finally open an investigation into the activities of this den of thieves?

Maggie from Oak Park  

Posted: March 11th, 2011 12:46 PM

Sounds like another one of Oak Park's not well thought out ways of spending tax payer's money. Similar to the pending hotel,condo, retail dream at Lake and Forest. Remember this when you vote.

OP Resident  

Posted: March 11th, 2011 9:19 AM

I think we'll learn even more when the engineering firm presents it's findings to the Village Board. If the report concludes that poor quality control during construction is the cause; the Village needs to make sure taxpayers are not on the hook for the repair costs.

Eduardo D. from Oak Park  

Posted: March 11th, 2011 8:22 AM

I am a structural engineer and not an architect. I can tell you that pre-cast concrete garages are by far the state-of-the art for garages. As with anything they have to be designed and built properly to perform as expected. Also any engineering firm must submit an estimate for a forensic investigation with the information at hand. Once work commences and new information is obtained of course additional costs may be incurred.

Eric B.  

Posted: March 10th, 2011 11:41 PM

I agree with Brian,WJE is top of the profession and investigating construction issues is very complex, from simply verifying normal settling to something much more complex involving construction errors or omissions. If you call a plumber for a backed up sewer line, the plumber does not show up with an estimate to dig up the front yard, they estimate $150 for a rodding and if they find a collapsed pipe, well then we know how that goes.. Lets blame WhiteCO, not the messenger

OP Resident  

Posted: March 10th, 2011 6:57 PM

If the post by Brian is accurate and I have no reason to doubt him. Why was WJE so low on the estimate they provided to the Village in order to secure the contract? I'm sure there must be an good explanation but it seems odd a firm with 30 years experience and a national reputation would be able to give an accurate price for the work and not later realize they were off by $60K. I sure hope Patricia's worst case scenario does not come to fruition. Parking would be a nightmare in Downtown Oak Park

Patricia from Oak Park  

Posted: March 10th, 2011 5:59 PM

I totally agree with Kathryn Jonas. And here's the big question - if (or should I say when) WJE comes back with a recommendation for closing/repairing the garage, AND the Forest/Lake garage is closed and torn down for redevelopment - where will that leave us? Once again short sighted, ill thought out planning by our Village Board. Don't blame WJE for the costs involved. Blame those that approved the expansion and remember the name(s) when you vote on election day.

Brian Lantz  

Posted: March 9th, 2011 4:18 PM

I don't have a dog in this hunt. So don't have a lot to add. Except, if there's any consolation, after 30 years in commercial real estate I think I can say WJE is by far one of the best and most respected forensic engineering firms in the nation. Their report should be definitive.

kathryn jonas  

Posted: March 9th, 2011 4:06 PM

This is further evidence that the Village has no business participating in private development partnerships. The Whiteco project - from the inferior design and materials of the building and landscaping, to the nearly unnavigable parking lot built for the exclusive use of Trader Joe's, to the faulty design of the expanded garage, is riddled with incompetence and a shameful waste of taxpayer/school district money. This was a no-bid project, built with $15 million of public money. It is a scandal.


Posted: March 9th, 2011 1:24 PM

But that is how we do things in America. We look for the lowest bid, not the bid that garantees the best quality or the longest lasting service/product. We want things on the cheap! For some reason we believe if we pay the least expensive contractor we will still get quality. Hey, you get what you pay for.

OP Resident  

Posted: March 8th, 2011 11:10 PM

Can we pick 'em or what? How was the consultant selected? Was there an open and competitive bidding process? Did this firm inform the board that the signed contract was subject to change? Sure looks like we got fleeced. Again! They lowballed the project and then came back to say it'll take an extra $60K to complete the job. We're now on the hook for $73K. Maybe more. Reminds of that scam with the computer consultant. The trustees approved spending $25K but the final bill totals more than $250K.

paul from oak park  

Posted: March 8th, 2011 6:55 PM

At lunch the other day, after I heard about the garage problems, I asked a group of noted Chicago architects that I was lunching with about pre-cast concrete parking garages. "The worst" "Absolute crap" "I wouldn't want to build one" were just some of the comments. One was particularly disturbing: "A pre-cast garage partially failed recently killing a child."

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