Engineering consultant prompts City Commission to back away from deal that had been negotiated
It is back to the proverbial “Square One” for City of Sarasota Auditor and Clerk Pamela Nadalini in her effort to find a more weather-tight and secure location for storage of the municipality’s central records.
During the City Commission’s regular meeting on Oct. 15, the senior principal of a Tampa engineering firm explained that the 17th Street structure Nadalini and staff had negotiated to purchase earlier this year likely could not withstand more than a Category 1 hurricane.
In August, as commissioners debated again how to proceed in those negotiations, Commissioner Hagen Brody suggested that if the seller were willing to extend the deadline for the city to agree to purchase the property, staff could determine both the flood zone rating and the hurricane rating for the structure.
Deputy City Attorney Michael Connelly was able to obtain approval of the seller — Chris Brown of Osprey — for those determinations.
The flood zone designation proved acceptable, subsequent documentation indicated.
However, although a representative of Brown told the City Commission on Oct. 15 that Brown had undertaken new measures to improve the building’s hurricane rating, the engineer whose firm inspected the property on 17th Street cast doubts on the effectiveness of those steps.
“As an essential facility,” Armando Castellon of Master Consulting Engineers told the board members, the structure at 3850 17th St. should be able to withstand a Category 3 or 4 hurricane.
“I just wanted to have that on the record,” Brody responded.
Vice Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch, who said she had visited the property, also voiced concern about plywood on the back of the structure. “I would rather have the records in the shed in my backyard as opposed to that place, honestly. … What we’re looking for is a very solid, safe, secure, air-tight, light-tight building,” she said.
Ahearn-Koch thanked Brody for his direction during the board’s Aug. 20 meeting, calling for the additional information about the building’s integrity. “Without this extra step,” she said, “we would not have known this.”
“We definitely want to get out of the current facility,” Nadalini told the board members after Castellon completed his comments. All she asked of them, she continued, “is that you would allow us to start all over again. … It is important for us to find a concrete, stable building suitable for our records and our employees.”
Nadalini has sought for several years to relocate the records division because of repeated water intrusion in the 12th Street warehouse where the materials are stored. The 12th Street facility is part of the city’s Utility Department. In October 2017, she won approval of the board to negotiate terms for another space for the materials and the Central Records Division staff.
As a result of the nearly 35-minute discussion on Oct. 15, Brody made a motion, finding that the commission was not satisfied with the risk category rating of the 17th Street building. The motion also directed staff to terminate plans to buy the structure, in writing, by Oct. 17, as set forth in the amended contract Connelly had forged with Ian Black, who has an eponymous real estate firm in Sarasota. Black was representing Brown, the seller.
After the unanimous vote approving the motion, Mayor Liz Alpert asked what the commission wanted to do next.
Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie then made a motion calling for Nadalini and staff “to start over to find a suitable facility, whatever that means,” including the potential of the city’s building a new facility.
Ahearn-Koch seconded the motion.
As she has during previous discussions about storage of the city’s central records, Alpert called for consideration of contracting with a company that specializes in storage facilities that house such materials. She stressed that that type of arrangement would be “muchcheaper” then leasing or buying another building.
On Aug. 20, Alpert cast the lone “No” vote about proceeding with further determinations about the wind-rating and flood zone designation for the structure at 3580 17th St. At the time, she decried the estimated total expense of $1.2 million to purchase the property and then transform it into the Central Records Division.
Freeland Eddie pointed out on Oct. 15 that her motion did not encompass any language about cost for an alternative regarding central records storage. “I’m not going to include a dollar amount,” she added. “I said for them to research and bring back” a recommendation on the best step to relocate the Central Records Division.
“Understood,” Nadalini responded.
Ahearn-Koch characterized the next stage of research as “open ended” in terms of options.
Freeland Eddie’s motion also passed unanimously.
Concerns about the inspection
During his comments at the opening of the discussion, Deputy City Attorney Connelly pointed out that information about the wind ratings for the 17thStreet building and the 12th Street structure had been provided to the commission prior to the Oct. 15 meeting.
The structure at 3580 17th St., he said, was determined to be able to handle a “service wind speed” of 89 mph and ultimate wind speed of 115 mph.
The 12th Street building, on the other hand, could handle service wind speed of 105 mph, he said, and ultimate wind speed of 136 mph.
Mayor Alpert asked for clarification. “The existing building will withstand stronger wind speed than the building we’re looking at?”
That is correct, Connolly told her.
However, Freeland Eddie pointed to information in the materials from Master Consulting Engineers saying that it had had to rely on a visual inspection, because the engineering drawings for the 17thStreet structure could not be located.
“Nobody can find [the drawings],” Connolly said of that situation.
The Master Consulting Engineers report noted that the 17th Street building’s roof, which is flat, is supported by wood trusses 5 feet deep spaced every 2 feet. Those trusses “bear on top of a wide flanged beam in the center of the building,” the report added.
Chris Malkin, representing seller Chris Brown, pointed out that, subsequent to the engineering firm’s inspection, Brown had paid to add hurricane straps to every truss for extra protection against wind. Brown did that “on his dime after we got the report,” Malkin added. “I know this building’s sound.”
In an Oct. 10 email to city staff, Malkin wrote that the hurricane straps “have been installed … to supplement and surpass SARASOTA [his emphasis] county code requirements.”
Castellon of the Tampa engineering firm explained that the 17th Street structure was built in 1977, based on the building code standards of 1976. If it had been built according to the most current standards, in that location, Castellon noted, it would have to be able to withstand wind of 148 mph.
He discussed technical aspects of the design, including the trusses, to convey his concerns about the integrity of the structure in the event of high winds.
Based on the comments, Commissioner Willie Shaw asked, “You’re telling us that this building wouldn’t sustain the hurricane winds … Mr. Connelly provided us with?”
If some of the problems his team observed were addressed, Castellon replied, then he expected the building to be able to withstand Category 1 hurricane winds.
“The trusses are new,” Connolly pointed out.
“But the connections [to the center beam] still are missing,” Castellon responded.
Referring to Hurricane Michael’s destruction in the Panhandle last week, Shaw voiced concern, based on Castellon’s observations, that the roof “is just sitting on [the trusses].”
After Castellon noted that the structure could be strengthened, Shaw questioned why the city would “go forward and put money into something that we already know is broken …”