New Spending Items Reveal Real Needs and Past Negligence

By Michael Romain

WEDNESDAY, MAYWOOD — Maywood Fire Station One, located at 700 St. Charles Road, may pose more serious, if hidden, threats than actual fires to the heroes it houses. Over the years, due to a chronic lack of maintenance that borders on outright negligence, the building’s cedar wood exterior has been subject to dry rot. Poorly maintained, shoddily sealed cedar windows, and overhead doors with insufficient weatherstripping, invite the elements into an interior that’s more fit to host mold than men.

Inside, Maywood’s finest must cook meals over a stove that has a residential, instead of a commercial, hood. There is virtually no sump pump to remove water that accumulates in the basin. Floor drains are missing. The building’s entire mechanical, plumbing and electrical systems are outdated, exposing the fire department (one of the very departments on which the Village relies to ensure everyone else is up to code) to various code violations of its own.

But the most glaring irony was pithily articulated by Ryan Rathman, a senior associate at FGM Architects, the firm whose structural investigation led to the above findings, which Rathman and his team presented at a Legal, License and Ordinance Committee (LLOC) meeting last Wednesday.

“The fire alarm system is pretty deficient according to today’s standards […] the facility lacks smoke detection,” Rathman said.

FGM’s revealing assessment of Station One’s subpar condition was presented at the same meeting in which Maywood Public Library director Stan Huntington presented a request of $65,000, to be obtained from the Village’s Fifth Avenue TIF fund, to repair the basement of the Library’s Carnegie building, which has undergone significant water damage.

“The Maywood Library is faced with a dual challenge of water and installing a sheet around fragile basement walls,” said Huntington. “[It’s] important that accumulating moisture be removed to stabilize the walls and the footage of the building.”

Operation Uplift CEO Northica Stone also presented a request of unspecified TIF funds for critical capital improvements and repairs to its building at the corner of St. Charles and Fifth Avenue. In addition to soft purchases of new computers for its training lab and glass cases to display and protect items that are currently free-standing and exposed, Mrs. Stone’s organization also requested funding to address a flat, leaking roof and a brick exterior in need of tuck-pointing, among other critical concerns.

Adding to the mountain of needs was Chris Moomey, the director of surveillance and wireless operations for Current Technology Corporation (CTC). Mr. Moomey was brought into Wednesday’s meeting to address mounting concerns that various employees and officials had with the Village’s closed-circuit security cameras. There are 64 such cameras at specific locations throughout the Village, but only 44 are operational.

Frustration surrounding the cameras reached a head at a September 17, 2013, Board meeting, during discussion of July and August invoices from CTC totaling more than $19,000. Several trustees complained about paying CTC maintenance and service fees when a significant number of cameras were inoperable.

“We’re paying a general maintenance and service fee for something that’s not working […] and that we’re not getting service for,” said Trustee Audrey Jaycox.

The Board voted unanimously to table payment of the invoices until a representative from CTC was brought in to discuss the company’s apparent laxity and explain what it was doing to rectify the issue.

On October 9, based on Mr. Moomey’s own testimony, the Village learned that it had been paying monthly bills totaling upwards of $9,000 for a system in which computer servers were frequently down and 20 cameras were faulty, seven of which were simply broken and thirteen of which were working, but rendered inactive due to some other technical glitch, such as being attached to power poles that weren’t getting any electricity.

Mr. Moomey noted that, although he assumed his position as director of operations only two months ago, he was nonetheless involved with the installation of the original camera system in 2008. It was this admission that prompted a rather contrite exchange between Mr. Moomey and Trustee Cheryl Ealey-Cross.

“How long have you been with us?” Trustee Cross asked. “You’re just now finding out that there are polls with no power?” she said after hearing the answer.

Mr. Moomey could only shake his head. “Once the cameras fell out of warranty, there should’ve been a systematic plan put in place [to alert the Village and renegotiate a new warranty]. That’s our failing.”

Earlier in his assessment, Mr. Moomey also admitted that his company had failed to keep adequate records or logs of maintenance and other basic services. “I’m embarrassed to admit it,” he said.

Mr. Moomey said that CTC plans to conduct a full audit of the camera system and would be willing to replace all four servers with new ones equipped with three-year warranties and three-year leases. “We’d deduct the amount of the lease from the maintenance agreement, so it’s cost-neutral and it ensures that you’re never obsolete for service and would immediately improve the reliability of the system.”

It was a promising offer, but not quite enough for acting Police Chief Commander Elijah Willis. “In the past,” said Willis, “we’ve had significant incidents happen in Maywood and due to the [inoperable cameras], we weren’t able to fix those problems.”

Nor does Mr. Moomey’s offer address the money that’s already been wasted by the Village to pay for a maintenance agreement in which no significant maintenance was taking place.

“What is your company willing to do offset what we’ve paid and what we’ve lost because you all have dropped the ball?” said Trustee Ealey-Cross. Mr. Moomey said that it wasn’t his position to discuss matters of financial compensation, but that he would take the issue up with the company’s CFO.

In the aggregate, what these LLOC items reveal is not only a snapshot of Maywood’s infrastructure needs, but also a picture of obvious neglect and less obvious, but highly possible, ineptitude.

In his presentation, Mr. Rathman said that cedar needs to be stained on a consistent basis if it’s to last, a statement that implies that consistent staining wasn’t done. Moreover, the fact that parts of the fire department’s electrical system aren’t up to code hints at a much more comprehensive pattern of institutional neglect.

The price of foregoing much less costly mitigation measures such as regular staining and routine electrical inspections followed up by actual repairs on a consistent basis is approximately $1.5 million. That’s FGM’s estimate for a total interior-exterior renovation of Station One.

As for the cameras, the total balance of payments that went to CTC for a service and maintenance agreement that was nonexistent is unknown, but, crudely judging from the dollar amounts on the monthly invoices, could be in the tens of thousands.

“We didn’t have the maintenance agreement that we should have had,” said Charlotte Powell, the Village’s 911 supervisor. “Essentially, I found out that the maintenance agreement didn’t pay anything.”

These are only two cases in which the real cost of past neglect is finally coming due–long after the negligent parties have moved on. When Trustee Ealey-Cross asked Ms. Powell who negotiated the contract on the Village’s behalf, she said former Village manager and current Chicago alderman Jason Ervin. Everyone in the chambers breathed a collective sigh of exasperation–only to wait with bated breath for when more of the costs of past negligence will come due. VFP 

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