The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

February 19, 2014

Conservation Board, exhibit firm at odds over Eco Tourism Center

By Amy Kent
Herald Staff Writer

GRAND MOUND — Members of the Clinton County Conservation Board are at a crossroads with Midwest Exhibits after seven deadlines the board says have been missed by the Davenport-based exhibit and fabrication firm.

The CCCB hired designers and technicians from the firm nearly six months ago to build a 1,000-gallon, live turtle display at the Rock Creek Marina and Campground in Camanche, a project that was expected to be completed late September, but still has yet to be finished.

It then was anticipated the display would be finished at the end of January. Now that the January deadline has also passed, CCCB board members are looking to enlist legal counsel to address the issue.

"There's a liability involved if we let them out of the contract," CCCB secretary and treasurer Jeff Beckwith said. "There's no deadlines in the contract but at the same time we know what a good business ethic is, to start something you finish it, and they're not following through with it."

Midwest Exhibits owner Ardeania Cale told the Herald on Tuesday that there are two specific reasons she feels the deadlines have not been achieved and the two parties are in the situation they are in at this time.

The first is that because Midwest Exhibits does not have an in-house artistic painter or flooring installer, the company hires sub-contractors to assist with the design, development and construction of those portions of the exhibits. As it had in the past, Midwest Exhibits hired two sub-contractors for the Rock Creek Marina and Campground project, one to install the flooring prior to the exhibits instillation, and one to paint a comprehensive mural inside the turtle display room.

Because, Cale says, both the flooring installer and the artistic painter missed their deadlines, the project was delayed and the company has taken legal action against both sub-contractors.

The second reason Cale feels the project has been delayed for as long as it has is because of what she says has been a lack of communication between members of the Conservation office and her company.

She said that while designers were completing pieces of the display, representatives from the conservation office were not agreeing with one another or agreeing on what they had approved in the original design, which added more time and money to the project.

"We were paid to do a design and that design was approved but as we were completing pieces they were making changes," Cale said. "That happened more than one time and they didn't really consider the fact that these changes take time."

With questions arising for who is at fault for the missed deadlines, members of the CCCB feel it is time they handle the situation from a legal standpoint, but are unsure how to proceed because County Attorney Mike Wolf is unable to represent them since the project is not being funded by the conservation office.

Instead the Clinton County Conservation Foundation is footing the estimated $90,000 bill, only $9,000 of which is left to be paid.

CCCB member Jim Haring spoke on behalf of the foundation at a conservation meeting last week, and stated that the board feels it has invested too much time and energy on the project to pull out of the agreement with Midwest Exhibits.

"The foundation's feeling is that we've got too much money in it to throw them out," Haring said. "That's the big problem."

Because the foundation is unable to use the legal counsel of Wolf, it will have to hire an outside attorney to represent it, an additional cost CCCB members were concerned with.

If the situation is taken to a legal investigation, Cale said she is prepared with documentation from each sub-contractor stating what they were going to do for the project and what timeline they were working with, and how both failed to meet the contract obligations they had committed to.

While legal representation was the main concern for the CCCB during last week's meeting, another issue brought to the table was if the board decides to cancel its service with Midwest Exhibits, they are unsure as to how they will complete the turtle display project and other projects they have lined up for the Rock Creek Eco Tourism Center.

One option discussed by Executive Director Walt Wickham was hiring the project's former artistic painter, who according to Cale was fired from Midwest Exhibits, and finish the display in-house.

"We could hire her to do the artwork and our guys can do the construction portion," Wickham said. "The problem we're running into now is as cold as it is out it's not too long before it's going to be spring and then they're going to be busy with other things."

A decision to move forward on hiring an attorney was not made at last week's CCCB meeting because at this point there is little they can do, but the group did decide it would meet with members of the foundation to discuss the possible next steps for the project.

Once the board and foundation are able to meet and figure out a solution they will then decide if they will hire outside legal representation.

"I know the foundation's paying the bills, but we're getting the product," Environmental Education coordinator Mark Roberts said. "I think we absolutely have to be a 50-50 partner with the foundation during this battle."