Structural problems unearthed
River wall needs six-figure change order
By Scott Bellile
The repair and replacement of retaining walls along the Wolf River will cost taxpayers more and take longer due to problems found within one section’s support structures.
The New London City Council unanimously passed a $132,273 contract change order for the river wall rehabilitation project at its Oct. 10 meeting.
This change order expenses will come on top of the $651,040 the city council budgeted for the project when it was approved in July.
The change order brings the total project cost to $783,313.
However, the project will not be solely funded by New London taxpayers, as the state is kicking in some money. The city landed nearly $500,000 in Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources grants to cover up to 50 percent of the project costs. The change order is eligible to be covered by the grant money.
If there is leftover grant money after the project is paid for, then it will be applied toward the extension of two boat ramps at Riverside Park on County Highway X. That project, which will probably occur next year, will take place regardless of whether there is grant money left.
The downtown river wall project kicked off Sept. 11 and was estimated to last six weeks. It involves three main components: fixing sections of the deteriorating wall spanning from St. John’s Park to Pearl Street, dredging the river and placing an 86-foot fishing dock for behind St. John’s Park.
The wall is a decade overdue for repairs, having not been touched in 35 years.
“The river wall, yeah, it’s been a problem,” City Administrator Kent Hager said at the city council meeting. “You never know until you dig down, until you see what you’re going to find. Unfortunately what they found wasn’t real good.”
According to a letter dated Sept. 28 from project engineer Ben Johnson of the Sussex-based construction company NuGen Johnson, which is working on the walls, “the existing footing for the section of river wall being replaced was found to be unsuitable for use to support the new wall section.”
Therefore, the existing footing must be removed and new footing has to be constructed, Johnson wrote.
Hager explained that the weak footing dates back to the late 1920s when the river wall was erected.
“That was when they poured concrete by hand, and they use some timbers, drove those into the ground, and that was what was used as the foundation with various materials [mixed] in with the concrete, mostly boulders and so forth,” Hager said. “So [this fall] when the gentleman tore the wall apart, he said it came apart very easily and it basically crumbled in layers … One kind of wonders how it survived as long as it did. I think we’re very fortunate that we got in there when we did because I think it’s probably just a matter of time before it really started falling apart.”
The project came to a short standstill until the city council approved the change order Oct. 10. Hager said the delay means the new fishing dock may have to wait until spring to be installed. City crews had intended to test it on the river this fall before putting it away for the winter.
The delay also means it will take longer before downtown residents and business owners can resume parking in North Water Street’s back alley. The alley is closed to traffic for the duration of the project.
The project will still get finished this fall.
“Do we expect to have some more footing problems as we go along?” Second District Alderman Tom O’Connell asked at the council meeting.
New London Mayor Gary Henke said no, adding that the section of the wall impacted by the change order is the oldest section and in the worst condition.
At the Oct. 4 meeting of the New London Finance and Personnel Committee, which recommended the change order to the city council, Second District Alderwoman Mary Tate said she wishes the city would finish a project under the engineer’s estimated cost for once.
Hager and Henke said this has happened recently.
The railroad project in which the city helped Granite Valley Forest Products restore a defunct railroad spur to its mill cost less than expected, Hager said.
Henke said the construction of the new city garage “also came considerably under the estimate.”
“So we have had some luck in the past. [But] unfortunately when you dig in New London you never know what you’re going to find underground,” Henke said.
Other city council approvals
The New London City Council approved other items at its Oct. 10 meeting including:
• Sanitary sewer rate increases to take effect Nov. 1. Customers will pay $9.34 per month for every 1,000 gallons used, an increase from $7.19 per month. The average household will see its monthly bill go up $10, to $28.02, as New London households average 3,000 gallons per month.
• A $10,000 contract with Speedy Clean Drain & Sewer of Menasha to televise sanitary sewer laterals on Division Street from Oak Street to Wolf River Avenue. The city will use the data collected to notify Division Street residents who will need to replace their sewer laterals and what it will cost. The road is scheduled for reconstruction in 2018.
• An annual $7,000 pool user fee to be paid by the New London School District. The city plans major upgrades to the pool’s air flow systems and equipment in 2018. To help pay for the upgrades, the city requested yearly contributions from the school district. The high school swim team uses the pool.
• A contract with Rowl’s Auto Body & Snow Plowing of New London to perform snow removal from city parking lots and alleys this winter.
This article was revised to clarify a statement about the Wisconsin DNR grants being used toward the project.