On 4-1 vote, City Commission gives staff time to seek more information about 17th Street building proposed for relocation of Central Records Division

Deputy city attorney reports after Aug. 20 meeting that seller has agreed to extension so determination can be made about hurricane and flood ratings

This is the building at 3580 17th St. in Sarasota. Image from Google Maps

It took three motions and almost exactly one hour and 20 minutes on Aug. 20 before the Sarasota City Commission voted 4-1 to seek a 60-day extension of the due diligence period involving a contract to purchase a 17th Street structure to house the city’s Central Records Division.

The cost of the property would be $610,000, while the build-out expenses to transform it into the new Central Records Division were put at $560,510.

With an Aug. 22 deadline looming for the city to decide whether to buy the building or bow out because of concerns raised during due diligence, Commissioner Hagen Brody proposed the extension. That was to allow staff time to engage a consultant to determine the hurricane rating of the structure at 3580 17thSt. and to find out what flood zone it is in. If the seller were not willing to agree to the extension, the motion called for termination of the contract.

In an Aug. 21 email to City Auditor and Clerk Pamela Nadalini, Deputy City Attorney Michael Connolly wrote, “The Seller has agreed to the extension of the inspection period. You will need to promptly retain a structural engineer to assess the Risk Category rating of the structure …”

Material Nadalini provided to the City Commission for its March 5 meeting — from the owner’s representative, SVN — said the building at 3580 17th St. has roof trusses, block walls and concrete floors. The Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office notes in its records that the flood zone is X. According to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood zone designations, an X means “Area of minimal flood hazard, usually depicted … as above the 500-year flood level,” according to a Sarasota News Leader search of FEMA documents.

A consultant’s report on an inspection of the building includes these photos. Image courtesy Ardaman & Associates via the City of Sarasota

Connelly added in his Aug. 21 email that the latest the information the commissioners wanted could be addressed during a regular board meeting is Oct. 15, based on the extension timeline. “However,” he noted, “if the data is available earlier, it can be reported earlier and the closing can occur earlier.”

On a 4-1 vote on July 2, the City Commission authorized Nadalini and Connolly to proceed with the necessary inspections and other due diligence in preparation for purchase of the 17th Street building. Part of that process was to be a determination of the expense to the city to build out the structure so it could house the Central Records Division.

Mayor Liz Alpert cast the “No” vote.

(From left) Rob Schanley, the city’s facilities manager; Assistant City Manager John Lege; and Deputy City Attorney Michael Connolly appear before the City Commission on Aug. 20. News Leader photo

On Aug. 20, Alpert made the first of the three motions involving Nadalini’s request for approval of the build-out expense in conjunction with purchase of the property. Alpert called for denying that request. As she had in the past, Alpert argued that the city did not need to invest money in another facility when it could contract with a third-party to store the records the Office of the City Auditor and Clerk maintains.

Alpert’s motion failed 2-3, with only Vice Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch supporting it. Commissioner Brody joined Commissioners Shelli Freeland Eddie and Willie Shaw in voting against it.

The next motion came from Freeland Eddie. It called for a finding that an inspection undertaken of the 17th Street structure had produced satisfactory results, so the build-out could proceed, along with the purchase.

Shaw seconded that motion, but Alpert, Ahearn-Koch and Brody all voted against it.

Finally, with Brody’s motion, Alpert cast the only “No” vote.

The 17th Street property is outlined in red. Image courtesy Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office

Contracting with a third party

At the outset of the Aug. 20 discussion of the agenda item, Alpert asked Assistant City Manager John Lege to tell the board about research he had undertaken into the work of a company called Iron Mountain, which handles records storage for government entities.

“Iron Mountain is actually the leader in … records storage services,” Lege said. Based on pricing the company had provided, he continued, it could store the 2,500 boxes for which the Central Records Division needs space at a cost of $8,784 per year. However, he added, that figure did not include retrieval and delivery of documents to City Hall.

Alternatively, Lege said, the company could charge the city $23,000 a year, which would cover the “unlimited in and out of boxes.”

That compared to the approximate expense of $1.2 million to buy the 17th Street building and make it usable for staff, he pointed out.

A city Request for Proposals for third-party storage of the records could lead to an even lower cost, he explained.

The Office of the City Auditor and Clerk already uses a firm called Access to store records off-site, Nadalini told the commissioners. However, she emphasized — as she has whenever the board members have discussed the issue — that her staff members “deal with voluminous requests” for public records. Having immediate access to those records, she stressed, has “served us very, very well over the years.”

The city’s Public Works facility is located at 1751 12th St. in Sarasota. Image from Google Maps

The records are kept in a warehouse that is part of the Public Works Department’s 12th Street property. Nadalini’s staff has provided commissioners many photos over the past couple of years, showing damage to the office area of the Central Records Division as a result of heavy rains.

Referring to Lege’s Aug. 20 remarks, Nadalini said, “The purpose of today’s [agenda item] has nothing to do with what is being discussed.”

The contract for the purchase of the 17th Street building, which the City Commission approved on July 2, she continued, allowed for due diligence, including the inspection. “I believe that we have successfully done that.” She added, “None of this information is new. … I would respectfully ask for the commission’s consideration of approval [of the build-out expenses].”

“I respectfully defer from that opinion,” Alpert responded. “This is very relevant to this item.”

Roofing repairs a possibility

Following Lege’s comments, Alpert asked Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown to discuss an email he sent the board members and senior city staff on Saturday, Aug. 18.

Brown wrote the following:

“One thing I’ve always prided myself is my ability to apply critical thinking skills on many of the issues that come before us as staff. This is a skill that must be employed to prevent you from just seeing what’s in front of you but beyond; in other words, not losing sight of the forest for the trees. Here is where I believe I have failed you and missed a simple inexpensive solution.

“A number of years ago an assessment of the Central Records Facility was conducted by Harvard Jolly to determine the structural integrity of the building. In summary the building can withstand 149 mile per hour winds. This is better than many buildings in the City.

“Following that assessment, based on complaints about air quality and mold, another assessment was conducted by an environmental company and found no major issues with the air quality and that minor treatment would remedy issues found. Yet another assessment was conducted after a complaint and again found no major issues.

Photos show damage discovered June 29 in the Central Records facility on 12th Street. Images courtesy Office of the Sarasota City Auditor and Clerk

“All three assessments were done independently over the course of 6/7 years and all originated due to water intrusion, not in the area where the records are stored, but in the office area where employees reside.

“Each independent time we received a complaint about the office area of the building, staff only focused and fixed that one issue. For example, water intrusion resulting in soiled ceiling tiles that resulted in mold; we removed the tiles and treated the area. The next time there was water intrusion, we replaced the tiles, checked the drain gutters and removed materials which were clogging the gutters and placed a screen to prevent materials from entering. That is what caused the water to intrude into the building.

“Once again, after a heavy rain, water again intruded the building. The result; soiled and falling tiles and wet areas within the building. The findings, no clogged gutters. So what then was causing the water intrusion?

“Staff indicated that in the office area of the building the gutters/drains are on the inside of the outer skin of the building. Gutters are for the most part are on the outside of buildings. Like any gutter/drain at your house, during a torrential downpour, because of the amount of water being handled in a brief period of time, they overflow, and being on the inside of the outer skin of the building, the excess water cannot go anywhere but into the building. This is the reason for the continued problem that seems unsolvable. But can it truly not be solved?

“Here is where I believe I missed a simple solution to a possible $1.2 million+ problem or purchase. What if we just removed the gutter/drain from the inside of the building? What if we replaced the roof of the office area and placed a new gutter to it on the outside? What is the cost associated with this? What if we replaced the … entire roof?”

The total cost for that work was estimated at $38,720 in an Aug. 17 letter from Sutter Roofing of Sarasota.

During the Aug. 20 meeting, Brown said he had asked staff to get two other quotes. “I’m hoping by the next couple of days we can have an assessment done.”

Water marks are visible on the copier in the Central Records facility on 12th Street on June 29. Images courtesy Office of the Sarasota City Auditor and Clerk

Commissioner Freeland Eddie voiced vexation that the suggestion of a roof replacement had not come up over the past months of discussions about the problems with the 12th Street facility. “We’re kind of being bombarded with this at the 11th hour. … This is ridiculous.”

Brown apologized several times during the discussion.

Commissioner Brody talked of having visited the 12th Street property. “I don’t think that that building is adequate to survive a major storm. … It’s literally a step above a shed …”

When Brown reminded him of the report showing the structure could withstand winds up to 149 mph, Brody told him, “It’s very hard to believe, just looking at it.”

Nadalini also referenced reports the city had commissioned, which noted concerns regarding the health of employees in the office area, because of mold related to the multitude of leaks.

More questions about the 17th Street structure

As the debate ensued, Vice Mayor Ahearn-Koch asked about a section of the Ardaman & Associates report on the inspection of the 17th Street building. She noted one section that talked about the structure having housed a retail pool supply business “for a number of years.”

Another part of the document said, “It is important to realize that a finding of ‘No Recognized Environmental Conditions’ or an opinion that no further inquiry is recommended is not a guarantee that contamination is not present anywhere on the property. Even an exhaustive study may fail to detect the presence of contamination if no observable or readily ascertainable evidence is present indicating the presence of the problem.”

This is one section of the Ardaman & Associates report on its inspection that Vice Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch referenced on Aug. 20. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

Ardaman & Associates is a geotechnical, environmental and materials consulting firm with an office in Orlando.

“This all makes me a little nervous,” Ahearn-Koch told her colleagues. “This language is not a clean report condition.”

The only way Ardaman & Associates would be able to provide the commission 100% assurance of no problem, Deputy City Attorney Connolly explained, would be essentially to tear up the flooring and sample every part of the site. “You’re not going to find a clean report condition.”

After Commissioner Brody asked about the hurricane and flood ratings for the 17th Street building, Alpert again stressed her belief that storage of the records with a third party was more cost-effective. Then she began the series of motions, leading finally to the decision to seek extra time to respond to Brody’s queries.