SMH construction resumes
MANISTIQUE – Work resumed Friday on the site of the new Schoolcraft Memorial Hospital – days after a temporary stop work order was issued and construction crews cleared out. The order was lifted after the Schoolcraft County Board of Commissioners voted to stand by the county building inspector’s decision to impose certain permit fees on SMH.
The disagreement between the hospital and Jake Rivard, building inspector, came to light early last week, when Rivard issued a stop work notice at the hospital site on U.S. 2. Rivard claimed the hospital had failed to pay their permit fee of approximately $43,000 after it was issued May 1. By May 4, state officials instructed Rivard to shut the site down, he explained during the board meeting Thursday.
“After meeting with the hospital representatives on this project … I was not satisfied with the answer I got, so I went to the CEO and he reiterated the same, exact expressions, as well as throwing me out of his office as I tried to show him the written notice that they were going to be shut down if the fees were not paid,” he said. “I waited until Tuesday to do that, after Lansing instructed me on Friday to get out there and shut them down immediately, with the help of law enforcement.”
Following the shut down, the site remained vacant while SMH CEO George Montgomery and hospital board members claimed they had only been inquiring as to what the fee structure was, and that the shut down was unwarranted. During the meeting, Rivard noted that he had still not received payment or a permit application from the hospital.
The main point of contention between the two parties – a doubling of the permit fee as part of a 2010 county policy that states a building permit fee must be doubled if the permit is not obtained before construction commences. According to Robert Root, SMH board trustee, the delay in payment was not meant to cause tension.
“As you would, or I think anybody would, if you felt the bill was excessive from what you expected, you’re going to ask some questions,” he said.
Root explained that the hospital had received the final state approval on the site plan on April 24, and seven days later, they received the invoice. Since members of the hospital and construction crew had been working closely with Rivard and state officials, Root said he didn’t think the timing of the permit purchase was of importance.
“Typically, and I don’t know about this locale, but I’ve got 39 years of construction experience in southeast Michigan – that clause (county doubling fee) is there … for those folks who try to usurp the system, go around it, start construction, hide it, and hope they don’t get caught.”
“In this case, it was a very open relationship, it was very involved by all the building authorities, including our design professionals,” he continued. “I feel at that point, if this penalty was going to be applied, it should have been made known to us, at the beginning, so we could make a conscious decision … to not proceed knowing that.”
On May 10, county commissioners, Rivard, hospital representatives, and members of the public convened during a regularly scheduled board meeting to hash out the details of the shut down and determine if the additional fee would be paid.
“All the entities knew we were going to have this meeting and hopefully resolve it without a lot of hoopla,” he said. “Does the county really want to impose that penalty knowing the circumstances and knowing what effort is going into that project? How difficult it’s been to bring it to fruition, and just what a crown jewel it’s going to be for our community once it’s completed?”
In response to Root, Commissioner Al Grimm noted that he appreciated the effort Rivard had put into getting the permit situation handled, and also questioned the SMH project entirely.
“A state-of-the-art hospital? Manistique can’t afford it. Boy, I would like to have a state-ofthe art jail. I’d like to have a state-of-the-art lot of things, but Manistique can’t afford it. We’re just a little-bitty town,” he said. “We had no input on this … and when you folks are all done, you’re going to move on. You and Mr. (George) Montgomery are going to move on to your next job, your next big project … and we have to live with this.”
Chairperson Dan LaFoille noted that, after some research, it was also discovered that the doubling of the permit fee had been enforced on other projects in the past. After questioning by Commissioner Craig Reiter, Rivard explained that, unless someone is constructing an accessory building less than 200 square feet in floor space, they are required to a building permit, prior to starting building.
During a public comment period, residents also questioned the hospital’s ability to begin construction without a permit.
Dixie Anderson, of Manistique, explained that the board’s decision would affect much more than the hospital.
“It seems to me that they (the hospital) is asking you to do either one of two things – either the resolution that you passed, saying that the fees should be doubled, is inappropriate and needs to be totally repealed, and anybody who has been penalized under that needs to be compensated, or they are saying that your man here (Rivard), does not know how to do his job,” she said. “If you can’t back your department head, then nobody has any credibility who works for this county.”
The board voted unanimously to stand by Rivard’s decision to double the permit fee and to continue the work stoppage until the hospital paid the fee. According to county officials, the fee was paid Friday morning and work recommenced shortly after.
“We’re disappointed … that we weren’t able to resolve this without your involvement,” explained Root, during the meeting. “We have better ways to resolve conflicts and disputes without handling them publicly.”