The Harvey House will soon have cooler air after Barstow greenlit a contractor’s $224,000 bid to replace the chiller at the historic site formerly known as Casa del Desierto, or House of the Desert, before its heyday as a railroad depot ended in the late 1900s.
It will be the city’s first approved expense from a $2.86 million installment of federal COVID-19 relief money it received in July, roughly four months after the funds were appropriated by Congress. City staff said that a second installment of a similar amount is coming in July 2022.
Norco-based CJS Cooling Tower Services was the lone bidder for the contract to replace the Harvey House’s chiller — a system for heating, ventilation and air conditioning that offers more power than standard HVAC systems.
The city council approved CJS’ bid in a 4-1 vote — with Councilwoman Barbara Rose as the lone dissenter — at a special meeting Monday evening. It is now set to swap out the all-but-defunct chiller that the Harvey House has used since the 1990s. Barstow spent around $70,000 on band-aid fixes in 2017, a time when staff said the city didn’t have the funds needed for a full replacement.
One worker at the Harvey House directed the Daily Press on Tuesday to the chiller that is installed along a walkway to the building’s entrance.
Rust and white-colored splotches, resembling either bird feces or some sort of chemical leaked from within, covered the steel panels that make up the chiller’s bulky frame. The pipes connecting the chiller to the Harvey House were leaking a consistent drip-drip of water.
“I was just looking at it the other day. It’s leaking everywhere,” the Harvey House worker said. “We’ve been burning up in here.”
Councilmember Tom Silva, who has been on the council for more than a decade, said the chiller replacement has long been needed at the Harvey House.
At an Aug. 2 meeting, the council approved a series of hikes to fees it charges people and businesses for various public services. Renting space at the Harvey House was one subject of the increases, including a doubling of fees for use of a single ballroom, which now costs $2,000 for the first six hours and $250 for each additional hour. City staff crafted and recommended the fee hikes, saying each increase was needed to better meet costs the city faces to provide each service.
Mayor Paul Courtney called Monday’s special meeting last week, allowing the council to decide on the chiller contract quickly as its regularly scheduled Sept. 6 meeting has been canceled for Labor Day.
In presenting CJS’ bid to the council, Kody Tompkins, Barstow’s interim Public Works director, said members of the publichave complained about how hot it is inside the Harvey House.
The bid from CJS, Tompkins said, would cost the city less than an engineer’s initial estimate of $250,000. The agenda packet for the meeting listed the initial estimate at $165,500, but Tompkins said this was a typo.
“I do believe that this is a fair bid” obtained through a proper and formal bidding process, Tompkins said.
The would take 8 to 12 weeks to complete if the council approved the bid Monday, Tompkins said. If it waited longer, that timeline could be delayed, he added.
Leonard Williams, a Barstow resident who ran last year for the District 3 seat, losing to Barbara Rose, spoke during the meeting’s public comment session to express concern that the city only got one bid on the chiller contract.
Rose also voiced hesitation about approving the contract Monday night, wondering whether the city could get a better deal if it got more bids.
“I agree with you. It is a concern that we have only received one bid,” Tompkins said. He explained that the city began a formal bidding process on July 14 and contacted 18 contractors to gauge interest.
The city held two bid-walks, or in-person assessments, of the Harvey House chiller site and plans, in the process of seeking contractors. “The first job-walk that was held, we had zero contractors show up,” Tompkins said.
For the second bid-walk, five contractors showed up. But CJS was the lone company to submit a bid.
“When I reached out to one of the contractors, their comment that was told to me is, ‘We’re a little too busy right now,’” Tompkins said.
A CJS representative declined to comment.
Charlie McGee covers the city of Barstow and its surrounding communities for the Daily Press. He is also a Report for America corps member with the GroundTruth Project, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization dedicated to supporting the next generation of journalists in the U.S. and around the world. McGee may be reached at 760-955-5341 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @bycharliemcgee.