Picking a firm to do a blueways and greenways master plan for the county was an easy vote for the Kosciusko County Parks and Recreation Board Thursday.
Choosing one for the Chinworth Bridge Trail extension was a little more difficult so a decision was tabled until a special meeting at 1 p.m. Nov. 30.
During a special meeting Nov. 2, the board agreed to interview all but one of the firms that submitted bid proposals for the two projects. The interviews took place Nov. 9.
Bid proposals had been opened at the board’s Oct. 19 meeting and came from, for the master plan, TSW (Taylor Siefker Williams Design Group), Troyer Group, McKenna and Triad Associates Inc.; and for the trail extension, Jones Petrie & Rafiniski (JPR), Troyer Group, RQAW and Triad. RQAW was the only firm not selected to be interviewed Nov. 9 due to the cost estimate they presented in their proposal.
At Thursday’s meeting, Board President Rob Bishop said after the Nov. 9 interviews, the board split the bidders up and called references for those in preparation for Thursday’s discussion “in hopes that we’d be able to take a vote to recommend the winning bidders to the (county) commissioners who would, in fact, enter into the contract on the county’s behalf.”
He then announced the shortlists for the two projects. For the trail extension, it was down to Triad and Troyer; for the master plan it was Troyer and TSW. Discussion on the master plan took place first.
Board member Aggie Sweeney spoke about TSW, whose subcontractors include Cornerstone and Structurepoint. At the Nov. 9 interviews, she said all three firms had representatives there. The reference Sweeney was able to get the most information from - out of Richmond - said they hired TSW four different times and spoke favorably about TSW without reservations.
TSW also recently completed a plan for the Indiana town of Orleans and Sweeney was able to look at information on that and was impressed. Sweeney said she had hoped to talk to more people but was unsuccessful or didn’t have her calls returned.
“I did not hear any reasons as to why we wouldn’t want to move forward with TSW and the proposal that they gave to us,” she said.
Bishop said he had the opportunity Thursday to talk to a couple people from Michiana Area Council of Government (MACOG) - Donny Ritsema and James Turnwald - about the bidders. Ritsema and Turnwald had good things to say about TSW.
On Troyer, Bishop said Ritsema said Troyer was “very much” a landscaping firm and more geared toward the master plan. Bishop said the feedback he received was that TSW was a “little higher, better” for what the Parks Board was looking for than Troyer Group.
Board Vice President Troy Turley said he followed up on some references in regards to Triad from Indianapolis, North Webster and Valparaiso. There was some positive reviews in general, but there also was some concern about project deadlines being met though everything worked out in the end. Turley said he was unable to get any feedback regarding blueways though.
Board member Matt Metzger was tasked to talk to references about Troyer Group. He talked to a woman from Marshall County who said Mike Reese, from Troyer Group, was “super communicative” and anytime something was needed he was on it. Metzger didn’t receive any feedback from a call he made to Milwaukee. A woman from Plymouth had similar responses about Troyer Group as the woman from Marshall County did saying she “100%” would recommend Troyer Group.
Metzger also talked to Warsaw City Planner Justin Taylor who told him Troyer Group offers a “solid product.” The city is working with Troyer on its 2.5-mile Lincoln Neighborhood Sidewalk Project. Taylor told him there were no immediate red flags with Troyer and they were doing a good job.
Board member Mike Cusick, via Zoom, reported on his conversation with the Kosciusko County Highway Department, who only had experience with Troyer and not Triad or TSW. The KCHD shared some of their concerns with Troyer on the current Husky Trail project. In working with Troyer, Cusick said he was told there have been some compliance issues and project delays that put the federal funds for the project at risk, though the project is on track now. “But I think the Highway Department and MACOG were kind of getting more engaged to make sure that happened,” Cusick stated.
Metzger asked Cusick if there would be an antagonistic relationship between the county and Troyer Group if the Parks Board decided to go with them. Cusick said he couldn’t answer that but they could work together to minimize potential delays.
Metzger said that whoever they ended up going with they should make sure there’s “teeth” in the contract that certain deadlines are met.
Bishop said when he talked to Turnwald, “he echoed the Troyer Group comments. That they’ve seen a little bit of that as well. And not only do we have a problem if we take delays, if we were to start over with Chinworth because we were unhappy with the bids, that’s a huge delay.”
Bishop eventually asked the board if anyone wanted to make a motion on the master plan. Turley made a motion to recommend TSW to the commissioners for the master plan, Cusick seconded it and it was approved 5-0.
When it came to a motion for the trail extension, Cusick suggested one option would be to delay a decision until the board could do more homework. There was some concern about the timeframe and getting a contract before the county commissioners for their approval. The next commissioners meetings are Nov. 21, Dec. 5, Dec. 21 and then not again until Jan. 16.
John Nelson, a representative of Triad, was in attendance at the meeting Thursday while Reese and Jonathan Geels, both of Troyer, participated virtually.
Responding to the concerns that were expressed about Troyer Group and the Husky Trail project, Geels, president of the company, said, “Certainly, situations come up where there have been challenges. That happens on lots of different types of projects. First I would say Troyer Group is committed to making sure that we meet those challenges head on, and we have no issues with making sure we meet our obligations, both to the county and projects like this. I will say that our landscaping architecture team, led by Mike Reese, has also managed trail projects like this and I’m very confident in Mike’s ability to make sure we deliver this project.”
As for the engineering team working on the Husky Trail project, Geels said that’s led by Stephen Summers and “he’s assured me that we are going to meet our obligations on that.” Geels said they’re putting as many resources as they can to that team to close that project out.
After a little more discussion, Turley made a motion to table a decision on the trail, Cusick seconded it and eventually the motion - amended to be tabled to 1 p.m. Nov. 30 - was approved 5-0.
The county set aside $750,000 in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for the design and build of the greenway extension and almost $80,000 for the master plan. The town of Winona Lake also has about $30,000 in grant funding it has offered to go toward the master plan.
The ARPA dollars have to be allocated by the end of 2024 and spent by the end of 2026.