Park Ridge City Council nixes design contract for welcome signs

Several Park Ridge City Council members said they were shocked that the cost to design eight “Welcome to Park Ridge” signs would have been over $40,000, not including construction costs, at the March 20 Committee of the Whole meeting. However, city staff said the signs are sophisticated enough that staff does not have the capacity to design them.

The City Council rejected a $40,294 contract with Lakota Group to design eight new welcoming signs, made of stone, on a 3-2 vote. Alderpersons Rick Biagi, Fred Sanchez and Kelly Lawrence voted to reject the contract. Alderpersons Harmony Harrington and Joseph Steinfels were absent from the meeting.

City staff said they were unsure how to bring in new signs without partnering with a design firm.

City Manager Joe Gilmore said the city’s staff does not have the capacity or expertise to create the construction or design documents of the new signs, and without those, construction companies would not be able to build any new signs.

“This is starting to become a theme of, ‘Why don’t we just do everything in-house?’ It’s the same reason you don’t do all the construction projects in your own house. We’re not capable of doing every single thing — and/or it’s not the most efficient way, the most logical way to approach it,” said Gilmore.

Leisa Niemotka, Administrative Services Manager for the city of Park Ridge, said the contract with the Lakota Group, the architecture firm the staff recommended to design the signs, would have provided the design and construction documents for the city.

Gilmore said the new signs would likely be made of stone, similar to the Uptown neighborhood sign, and not plywood, like the current welcome signs. He said the city would need to give the design and construction documents to whichever bidder the council approves to build the signs.

“These aren’t two stakes in the ground like the signs we currently have. There is a foundation, there will have to be electricity to run to them, there will be backlighting at night,” Gilmore said. “It’s a little more sophisticated— not to defend the project one way or another.”

Some alderpersons were puzzled as to why the design costs would be so high. “We’re going to spend 40 grand to design the sign that needs to say, ‘Welcome to Park Ridge’ and have the logo that we just spent 100 grand on?” questioned Biagi. “I don’t understand what we’re doing right now. This makes no sense.”

After the council rejected the contract, Gilmore said he wasn’t sure how the city could replace its welcome signs without design or construction documents. “If there’s another way to do it, I’m open to do it.”

“We don’t go lightly into these projects. If we want to replace six gateway signs with proper signs, this is how you do it,” said Gilmore. He said the city had planned to design the signs all at once but take its time to build them at a pace of one or two signs a year. He again acknowledged that the cost could have been higher than they expected, saying, “If the juice isn’t worth the squeeze, then we’ll just kill it and stick with the signs we’ve got.”

Biagi said he was supportive of new signs but voted “no” because he didn’t want the city to spend so much money on what he described as relatively simple designs.

Niemotka reiterated that the design of the signs is only part of the costs, and what the city needed from the Lakota Group was design and construction documents and oversight of the sign construction, something neither she nor the public works director can do.

“That’s what this proposal is for. It’s not just to slap a brand on a piece of wood and stick it in the ground. But if that’s not the desire of the council, no problem,” she said.

The council will have a chance to reconsider its decision at the next committee of the whole meeting.