Bluestone bumped in upscale Marion redo

$200K to replace bluestone speed bump with brick

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By Anna Lothson

Staff Reporter

Streetscaping has been both a buzz word and a topic of contention in Oak Park. The perks of adding some charm to the village have been mixed with criticism of high costs and debate over economic return.

Village officials have said the major redo of Marion Street in 2007 boasts a 5-1 return on its investment in terms of what was spent on the project and what the village has gained in private investment in return. But some trustees have debated if streetscaping can always bring similar outcomes.

In the past year Oak Park has faced the high costs of two streetscaping-related projects on the roughly $6 million Marion Street redo that came with bluestone speed bumps and heated sidewalks. Turns out, neither gave its bang for its buck.

Last winter Oak Park Public Works Director John Wielebnicki said the heated sidewalks were helpful, but because of the $25,000 annual electricity price tag, it was too expensive to expand to other areas of the village. This winter, however, a fix to another streetscaping element on Marion will add $200,000 to the capital improvement budget.

This budget item led Village Trustee Ray Johnson to share his frustration and question why the bluestone speed bump on Marion Street at Westgate is being removed after just six to seven years.

"I'm very confused, actually," Johnson said in a budget discussion meeting earlier this month, "Why are we replacing the Marion/Westgate speed tables after just a few years? It's a brand new street."

Village Engineer Jim Budrick jumped in with answers, but couldn't offer an explanation that eased Johnson's concerns.

"To be completely honest, bluestone and traffic do not mix," Budrick said. "So we're planning on taking the bluestone off and replacing it with brick pavers."

Because of the high pedestrian travel on the street, the speed bumps are used as a traffic-calming device. But the bluestone pavers cannot withstand the weight of auto traffic and will be replaced by brick. Budrick said the bluestone in the crosswalks will also be replaced with granite to withstand the number of cars that pass through.

"Our street department is out there almost weekly replacing the bluestone," Budrick said. "It's impossible to maintain it in the condition that it's in."

Johnson asked if the contractor or engineer who recommended the bluestone materials could be held financially liable for the "bad advice," but Budrick said the time that's passed makes that possibility unlikely. He said his department will discuss that option and determine if there is a chance to require the firms to pick up any of the tab.

"That's unfortunate," Johnson said after hearing the village will likely shell out for the new materials on its own. "We're going to get some significant feedback on that."

Oak Park's redo of Marion, however, has its supporters. After the 2007 completion of the street renovation, which consisted of granite cubs and an underground water-filtration system, the village won an urban design landscape award.

Marion Street has also been recognized by several other groups — including the Congress for the New Urbanism, the Brick Industry Association and the Illinois chapter of the American Planning Association.

Still, as the village board has spent significant time in recent budget and economic development discussions debating the merits of streetscaping as a mode of economic development, its likely designs like bluestone speed bumps, walkways and heated sidewalks may be a thing of the past for Oak Park.

Email: Twitter: @AnnaLothson

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What Engineer Stamped This?  

Posted: December 3rd, 2013 1:09 AM

What engineering firm designed this project? The Engineer on Record who stamped the plans should be brought to the forefront. I am sure whoever designed this project must have been front and center if kudos and awards where given out. Does anyone know who designed this? If they still do work for the Village, the Village should reduce their existing fees and not use them for a while. In engineering, you have to speak up for what is best and not just do what the Board says. Some folks never learn.

Itsallnobid_wink wink from Oak Park  

Posted: December 2nd, 2013 3:48 PM

All of Oak Park's design consultants (including engineer Terra) are no bid, which is not uncommon under QBS. However there is not an open or transparent process of RFPs and selection. Open up the competition! Complacency begets errors.

dystOPia from OP  

Posted: December 2nd, 2013 3:01 PM

Also to be included in the N. Marion St. project is the cost of financing. The village floated a $5M General Obligation Bond in 2006 (20 years, 4.6474% interest) for N. Marion St., that will result in $2,842,335 of interest over the term of the bond (since re-financed). Therefore, the total cost for N. Marion St. is; $6.1M (construction), $1.0M (consultants) and $2.8M (financing), which is a total of $9.9M. A 5-1 return in terms of private investment would equate to $49.5M. Where is it?

dystOPia from OP  

Posted: December 1st, 2013 11:26 AM

The N. Marion St. project actually cost $7.1M. As reported by the WJ on Nov. 11, 2008, the final const. cost was $6.1M, which did not include consultant's fees of $1.0M. Therefore, the village claim of a 5-1 return on its $7.1M investment in terms of private investment would equate to $35.5M. Since N. Marion St. has experienced no new const. since 2008, and only about 6-7 retail store improvements, where is the $35.5M of private investment?

MC from Oak Park  

Posted: November 29th, 2013 12:18 PM

Yes, the bluestone pavers, crosswalks and speed bumps are a lovely thing to look at, but a ridiculous waste of money from the outset. I'm sure a less costly, more durable material would not have detracted from the shopping traffic. How ironic that we are paying $25K to pay for the heated sidewalks, while simultaneously getting an electric car-charging station. Oak Park gives the appearance of concern for the environment, yet squanders money and resouces on this. Really?

dystOPia from OP  

Posted: November 28th, 2013 1:35 PM

According to a 2007 WJ article on the N. Marion St. design, "Trustee Ray Johnson said the design elements were 'absolutely exciting' and 'well beyond my expectations.'" (First look at new Marion street mall, WJ, Feb. 20, 2007). Are your expectations still being met Trustee Johnson? Perhaps we can get David Pope, Scott Feres, project manager of The Lakota Group, or someone from the Oak Park Marion Street Design Committee to respond.

Scott from Oak Park  

Posted: November 28th, 2013 11:54 AM

Opening up Marion to traffic was and always will be a mistake. They should have left it closed to cars and redone the area for people.

Stop complaining from Oak Park  

Posted: November 27th, 2013 5:54 PM

Stop blaming contractors or why a village engineer accepted bluestone as a street surface or why green Oak Park, wanted heated sidewalks, and why N. Marion needed a speed bump instead of a stop for pedestrians sign. Stop adding to Ray Johnson's frustrations with questions. Help other villages, tell Congress for the New Urbanism, the Brick Industry Association, and all the other groups that our village engineer says, " bluestone and traffic do not mix." Oak Park,

Meanwhile on Roosevelt Rd  

Posted: November 27th, 2013 5:37 PM

We get head shops and $6 barbershops and unanswered cries for help (that you have to read about in the other OP paper). Pope, Johnson and the rest of the VMA can go F themselves. What a bunch of jagbags pandering to the "Pleasant District elite."

dystOPia from OP  

Posted: November 27th, 2013 2:54 PM

The village is/was involved with lawsuits involving the design and construction of the Public Works Center and Holley Court Garage addition. $200,000 is not chump change, and I would expect the village to investigate whether the error was with the design, construction or material. Regardless, it is public funds, and therefore requires a public response from the village.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: November 27th, 2013 1:52 PM

I'm not a structural engineer, but bluestone pavers and autos don't seem like a good combination. Why did it take seven years for the decision to replace the speed table? I mean, how long has the Village known about this bad design? If they knew about this years ago, and confronted the consultant back then, then maybe they'd have more of a legal leg to stand on?

Village Voice from Oak Park  

Posted: November 27th, 2013 12:41 PM

It's not for Mr. Budrick to justify, but the designers who saddled him with a costly sisyphean maintenance task. Even if they assume no financial responsibility, the Lakota Group owes us an explanation why the expensive design features they specified were nearly instant failures - if for no other purpose than other communities can learn from our expensive mistakes. Flashy renderings and awards may look nice in a portfolio, but public is ill-served if the design fails basic functionality.

Adam Smith  

Posted: November 27th, 2013 8:56 AM

Yes the 5:1 statement is patronizing at best, outright attempt to mislead at worst. The yardstick is increased net revenue (deducing increased maintenance cost and electricity) that flows to taxes that would not otherwise happened if not for the investment in the project.


Posted: November 27th, 2013 8:38 AM

And how is someone not getting fired for spending money on and installing bluestone sidewalks without first knowing their load-bearing weight? This reminds me of the field turf issue at the high school some time back, which reminds me of the parking structure waste, which reminds me of how money was wasted to get rid of the deadbeat Tom Barwin. Notice a theme in Oak Park? Hint: it rhymes with haste.

dystOPia from OP  

Posted: November 27th, 2013 8:09 AM

@JBM: the village (specifically Loretta Daly) has always touted the 5-1 return on its investment in terms of 'what was spent on the N. Marion Street project and what the village has gained in private investment in return.' I assume this means every dollar privately invested after N. Marion St. was completed is being credited by the village. Amazingly, the village board, local media and awarding organizations have never questioned this claim, nor has the village ever defined or substantiated it.

dystOPia from OP  

Posted: November 27th, 2013 7:58 AM

David Pope micro-managed and micro-designed N. Marion St., and was the one who directed the planning consultant, The Lakota Group, to specify bluestone slate as a street paving and sidewalk material. For their subservience, The Lakota Group was subsequently awarded no-bid planning consultant contracts for S. Marion St. and the proposed Lake St. streetscaping plan. Both Pope and The Lakota Group should be held accountable.

Adam Smith  

Posted: November 27th, 2013 7:21 AM

Good idea to open the street, bad execution. I'm guessing tax revenue is up due to opening the street, not design. I think everyone agrees that it was over designed. North Marion looks nice but I'm guessing no increase in attributable tax revenue so a failure for the taxpayers. Budrick is a talented guy who should be involved in the planning stages not just forced to clean up the mess the Board (not consultant) creates.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: November 26th, 2013 11:36 PM

"Village officials have said the major redo of Marion Street in 2007 boasts a 5-1 return on its investment in terms of what was spent on the project and what the village has gained in PRIVATE INVESTMENT IN RETURN. I Googled "How is "private equity investment returns calculated?" Goggle replied," NO RESULTS FOUND." The term is one of those fancy equity terms that are used to pump up investors who are not receiving cash on their investments. Tax revenue is the benchmark for project success, not Private Investment Return! Wouldn't we have a lot more clarity in OP if ROI (Return on Investment) was the benchmark and was expressed in $$$$$'s rather fancy technical terms that lack meaning. If the 5-1 return was on investment (ROI), that would be $30 million in revenue for the $6 million Marion Street redo. I know that did not happen! So, would someone please let me know what the actual ROI on the Marion Street redo is.

Jim Coughlin from Oak Park  

Posted: November 26th, 2013 11:12 PM

It's more than just "bad advice". Taxpayers got fleeced for thousands of dollars that could and should have been used instead to repair/replace crumbling streets, curbing, sidewalks and alleys in Oak Park's neighborhood. Let's make sure the contractor or enginner who "recommended" these unsuitable materials is no longer eligible to receive any more contracts or if they are still receiving our public funds, that amount should be renegotiated to cover our losses. Regardless of the awards the redesign has received, we now have another example of how TIF money can be squandered due to a lack of any real oversight or accountability. Those who voted for the new Village President have to wonder if there ever will be any transparency regarding TIF revenues and expenditures. The books still remain closed for inspection by the public/taxpayers or a forensic accountant..This latest fiasco hardly reveals exactly how much of our money may been been similarly wasted during the lives of Oak Park's TIFs.

Mike Lennox from Oak Park  

Posted: November 26th, 2013 10:24 PM

The people nor groups who gave Oak Park awards didn't pay for Marion....Tax payers did!

dystOPia from OP  

Posted: November 26th, 2013 10:21 PM

Although often referenced, there has never been credible evidence that the 2007 renovation of N. Marion Street resulted in a 5-1 return on its investment, in terms of what was spent on the project and what the village has gained in private investment in return. The village is required to a post a cost-benefit analysis to substantiate their claims.

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