Inspection question creates Wetzel Park headache

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

Across the dais Monday, City Council members showed visible frustration with the circumstances that have held up the opening of Wetzel Park and the City’s new splash pad.

The issue is an inspection that was not conducted before the cement was poured for the pad to insure proper grounding for the splash pad.

“The reason we had to do all this was there was an inspection that was missed during the construction of the splash pad,” said Mayor Rick Hall. “Because it was missed prior to the pouring of the concrete we had to do all these items here (referring to the list of actions taken by the City) to understand if it was bonded correctly or not.”

The absence of a documented inspection has left the City not knowing if required “deck bonding” – which is when bonding clamps are used on rebar within the foundation to reduce voltage gradients in the area – was completed properly.

Contractors claim the work was completed, but no inspection was done, even after City Inspector Jonny Ubelhor reminded contractors on-site when they showed up to pour the concrete that the inspection needed to be done first. And none of the companies and contractors involved were willing to accept liability.

In nearly an hour and a half of explanation from City staff, the Council heard details on what happened and what could now be done to resolve the issue.

Liberty Hill Chief Operating Officer Lacie Hale shared a timeline of actions taken by the City in June in an effort to clarify the situation. The timeline, and other documents discussed relating to the issue, was omitted from the agenda packet provided to The Independent Monday. A subsequent request Tuesday morning to the City for those documents and others regarding the splash pad were not provided by press time Wednesday.

With the lack of an inspection report, the City resorted to grounding tests and ground-penetrating radar to try and determine if the work was done. Even though everyone involved agreed the work was likely done properly, no one was willing to sign off on the issue guaranteeing it was done correctly.

A grounding test for Ohms was conducted and read a 1.5. According to building code a reading of nine or below is acceptable.

Council member Kathy Canady shared her frustration throughout the discussion, asking questions about the timeline and process.

“We’re talking water and electricity, which is not something that can mix real good,” Canady said. “This is a big deal because it’s water and electricity.”

Attempting to mitigate the concerns, Hall said the only spot underneath the concrete that has electricity to it is the activation post for the splash pad and it is DC current, not AC current.

“It is a device you just touch it and there’s enough DC current in your body to just activate that switch,” he said.

While Canady talked about safety and process, she repeatedly raised questions on why the City didn’t know, asking who was at fault.

In a back and forth with Senior Director of Planning David Stallworth, Canady asked what could have happened had the issue not been discovered, how the problem could have been avoided and regularly brought up the issue of responsibility.

“What I’m saying is we can point fingers and go back and forth,” Stallworth said regarding blame, with Canady interjecting, “It’s an important finger.”

When Stallworth tried to shoulder the responsibility as head of the Development Department, Canady refused to accept that.

“We don’t know who is going to take the hit on this,” she said. “You can volunteer, but that’s a Council decision.”

Stallworth explained the process in more detail, recounting what had occurred since last October on the project. Some early delays came from changes in the project itself, as well as drainage issues in relation to other projects ongoing in the area.

“Long story short, there were two to two and a half months of delays as a result of those actions or weather-related delays,” he said, continuing to explain the decision-making process on continuing with the project. “We had one of two options. We can either proceed based on our own judgment that these people are familiar enough with procedure and process and if they are insuring there is going to be a third-party inspection then we are going to rely on them to carry out that promise. The other recourse would have been to take a hardline approach and issue a red tag and do a stop work order.”

In addition to the later tests done to try and verify the bonding had been done, Hall, Hale and Stallworth tested the splash pad and had no issues or concerns after.

In the end, the decision was made to create new deck bonding by accessing the rebar from four edges of the pad and clamp the bond wire around the outside to achieve proper grounding. This would eliminate the need to cut into or break the slab to check for clamps and is work that can be done by City Public Works employees.

Hall asked each of the five Council members in turn whether they were comfortable opening the splash pad if this work was done and a certificate of occupancy was received. Each answered yes, with Tony DeYoung adding that he’d like to see more regular cleaning and sanitizing in the bathroom under the current situation with the COVID-19 virus.

If the work is completed and tested in time, the plan is to hold a grand opening celebration at 10 a.m. July 3, prior to the Independence Day Spectacular that evening.

Once the solution was settled on, Hall expressed his own frustration with the issue.

“I feel that the City as a whole has dropped the ball in multiple cases in this,” he said. “David (Stallworth), I will say to you as head of that department, and I will say to you, Lacie (Hale), as his boss that we need to tighten this process up. If a contractor ever tells us in the future that a third party will do something we red tag it. This has put the City way behind and is costing us money.”

In a later interview with The Independent, Hall refused to say he was satisfied with the outcome.

“I will be satisfied when we’re able to have our grand opening and open up the park,” Hall said.

He verified that all contractors had been paid related to the project.

Following the decision on Wetzel Park, the Council heard three options presented by Hale on the potential reorganization of the Planning Department.

Stallworth put together one proposal and Hale brought forward two others. The new plan would include three new positions – a project manager previously approved in the current budget, as well as a building official and plans examiner. The Independent has not been provided with copies of the three options presented.

Stallworth asked that he be allowed to review the proposed options before a vote is taken, saying he had not had an opportunity to consider the second and third options. In response to that request, DeYoung made a motion to table the issue until the next meeting so Stallworth would have that opportunity and the motion passed unanimously.

The Council did approve hiring for the project manager position, though, by a 4-1 vote with DeYoung in opposition.

In an interview Tuesday, Hall defended moving forward with the position without the final determination on the department’s structure.

“I know we created that position a long time ago, and honestly I don’t recall what the range was for that,” Hall said, adding that the reorganization is important to keep up with growth. “I think that as the City keeps growing we need to keep growing and forming and shaping our departments and I think this is just one step closer to getting us ready for the growth we’re expecting and having the right people in the right positions.

“I am going to say in total the City failed in this entire project because we don’t have defined processes internally we should be following to prevent stuff like this from happening,” he said. “One of the things we’re doing is trying to develop those procedures so nothing like this happens again.”

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