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Editorial: Appleton must learn from stormwater project problem

7:51 AM, Mar. 10, 2014  |  Comments
The city has an underground stormwater project under construction at Appleton East High School.
The city has an underground stormwater project under construction at Appleton East High School.
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It's better to underpromise and overdeliver than overpromise and underdeliver.

This is true in the business world - in the relationship between a business and its customers, as well as in the relationship between boss and employee.

It applies in government, too - in the relationship between government and its contractors, as well as in the relationship between government and its constituents.

The promise of an underground stormwater project at Appleton East High School proved too alluring for the Appleton Common Council to pass up.

Needing solutions to flooding on the east side of the city, the Council jumped on the $8 million project to build a four-million-gallon system under an East parking lot.

But the project ran into a problem in its first phase - cracked concrete cells that needed repair and put the project behind.

It left the Council with a true dilemma - a decision between two difficult choices. It could continue with the second phase of the project and pay an extra $710,000 in cost overruns. Or it could stop the project and pay $1.9 million because of the contracts already in place.

That the Council chose to proceed was the right decision at this point in the project. A 10 percent overrun on a project of this magnitude isn't good, but it's not out-of-the-ordinary, either.

But it should provide at least a little pause to Council members and, especially, the city administration on whom the Council members depend for expertise and guidance.

Changes will be made in the second phase of the project to correct the problems of the first phase. Should those problems have been anticipated? Should there have been extraordinary oversight, given the "innovative technology" involved? We don't have the technical knowledge to say yes or no. But it's important to ask the questions.

The city has been down this road before. The past problems of the water treatment plant, the private funding portion of Houdini Plaza, this project - they're all examples of overpromising and underdelivering.

In this case, the city will pay the extra money and, it's hoped, will have an excellent solution to its flooding problem.

It's hoped more questions will be asked as this project continues - and on the next project, too.

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