$5.8 million city ice arena contract approved
By Kevin Elliott
Birmingham city commissioners voiced concern about construction costs overruns on Monday, April 12, while approving $5.8 million in construction work contracts for the city’s 47-year-old ice arena.
The project – which includes relocating the arena’s main rink, replacing the facility’s refrigeration system, expanding locker rooms and other improvements – is part of an $11.25 million parks and recreation bond approved by voters in November. Commissioners split their votes 4-3 last year over whether to put the bond language before voters.
The city’s parks and recreation bond was approved in November by more than 70 percent of voters. However, some city commissioners have questioned whether voters were fully aware how much of the bond would be spent on the Birmingham Ice Arena, 2300 E. Lincoln Road. Those concerns were voiced again, as commissioners were made aware of a nearly $700,000 increase to the project, which will be absorbed by the parks and recreation bond revenue.
“This was pushed through,” commissioner Stuart Sherman said, referring to the 4-3 vote last year on the bond proposal that split the commission. “Now we will spend about $700,000 more than what we originally said would be spent on the ice arena. I have serious reservations about this, and I wonder if we are going to get other surprises that we aren’t even prepared for.”
The Birmingham Ice Arena serves the Michigan Amateur Hockey Association, and is home to Birmingham High School Hockey (Birmingham Unified); the Birmingham Hockey Association; and the Figure Skating Club of Birmingham. The facility follows a “pay-to-play” model in which clubs and organizations pay an hourly rate to rent the ice. The arena also offers skating lessons and public open skate sessions. The majority of all revenue received at the arena is from ice rentals with organizations.
In 2018, the city hired Plante Moran Cresa to conduct an assessment of the arena to serve as a road map for future capital projects. Recommendations included shifting the main ice arena to the east to accommodate ADA requirements; the addition of unisex and referee locker rooms; a high school team locker room; enlarging the existing locker rooms; and a new studio rink observation area. A 2018 total estimated project cost was $5.1 million.
Birmingham Public Services Director Lauren Wood said six alternative plans were made to the plans for a total reduction of $405,800, with the most significant reduction being the studio rink in-floor piping, totaling $380,000.
“What this means is the new mechanical system will be in place serving the studio rink, but the in-floor piping will not be replaced,” Wood said. “The ice will need to be removed, as done currently, for approximately four months during the summer. This portion of the ice arena operation does not generate revenue currently, to justify this added expense. Other revenue sources such as creating a multi-purpose space can be deployed in this section of the rink. It will provide many options as a rentable space in conjunction with the new party room or it will serve as a separate rental area.”
The lowest bidder for the project was C.E. Gleeson Constructors. Charles Gleeson, which was awarded the contract, is a former Birmingham city staff member who worked at the city’s outdoor ice arena in the 1970s, Wood said.
With a base bid of nearly $5.3 million, it was reduced to $4,891,200 with the removal of some items. Additional costs, including engineering and contingency costs bring the total estimate to $5,797,606, or nearly $700,000 over the original estimate.
With $2 million already budgeted for the improvements, the shortfall would come from the parks and recreation bond proceeds.
Several members of the public spoke in support of the work that will be done at the ice arena, as well as the current state of disrepair. The commission at 10 p.m. approved extending the length of the meeting, as the number of public comments in support of the work threatened to extend the commission’s meeting past its time constraints.
Gary Piotrowicz, former president of the Birmingham Hockey Association, said now is the best opportunity to move work at the arena forward, as it will only be more expensive in the future.
“This is the right time to do this,” he said. “The rinks are down while COVID is going on, and it won’t get better. It’s sorely needed. I would like to remind everybody, this is a pay-to-play place. The people involved, even if they are from outside the city, pay money – a lot of money – to use this facility. This isn’t something that they are freeloading on. There’s a lot that goes into this. I hope we have a positive outcome tonight because we could have a wonderful facility by the fall.”
Commissioners approved the contract by a vote of 6-1, with Sherman voting against.