Joss House renovation on hold while city reevaluates contractor

Uinta County Museum Curator Mary Walberg and Musuem Director Kay Rossiter speak to the Evanston City Council about renovations to the Joss House. (HERALD PHOTO/Kayne Pyatt)

EVANSTON — Uinta County Museum Director Kay Rossiter and curator Mary Walberg brought their concerns to the Evanston City Council work session held on July 26. Rossiter and Walberg told the council that they are frustrated and confused by the actions of Evanston Community Development Director Rocco O’Neill and facilities supervisor Jesse Hawkins.

“We have been told by Rocco and Jesse to stop all work on the renovation of the Joss House until we get three bids from contractors,” Rossiter said. “Mary and I have donated our time to the city to write a grant for the renovation and have done all of the work. The grant did not stipulate we needed three bids and we just want to finish the work so we can open it again to the public.”

Mayor Kent Williams asked O’Neill to respond and he referred comments to Hawkins.

Hawkins said, “I have given you all a list with pictures of my concerns. This project was started in late 2019 and is still not finished. I have seen a lack of craftmanship, lots of overspray of paint on glass and doors and switches. The windows are framed in with no insulation and if you paint now the paint won’t last due to weather. I’m just unhappy with the work.”

Hawkins said the city had received a bid from Rand Newiger, who is Walberg’s husband, but said they wanted multiple bids. He said he has received two more bids and is getting one more. Hawkins said he just wants the work done right. The city fire code mandates insulation in the windows and Hawkins said the design of the interior is not his concern, it is the quality of the work.

Also, Hawkins said that when he talked to Newiger,the contractor said he wanted to do metal on the porch roofs and Hawkins said he wasn’t sure that would work, and that GPO plastic would be better.

“We are not done.” Walberg said. “The paint stains will be cleaned up and the doors painted.”

O’Neill added to Hawkins concerns.

“Our concern is it’s a city facility,” O’Neill said. “Jesse has pointed out his concerns. We are not satisfied with the work that is being done at the end of the day and we want to protect the city by asking for competitive bids.”

Walberg said, “We at the museum have been the stewards of the Joss House for 25 years; we have provided the tours and kept up the displays. We are not done with the work and all of the concerns stated by Jesse will be remedied if we can just finish the work. I have 35 years’ experience in curating and my husband Ran has 45 years of contract experience and is licensed. I just don’t understand why we can’t finish the work.”

It is important that the interior should represent an original Joss House, Walberg said. She added that they have placed a million-dollar display in the center of the building now and they need to cover the windows in order to protect the artifacts. She explained that the work has been slow due to the process of writing and waiting for grants, the COVID-19 pandemic, and waiting on supplies and materials. 

“We have spent $31,000 so far on the work and next month we should hear back about another grant to finish the interior,” Rossiter said. “We have to finish the exterior first before we finish the interior anyway while the weather is good. We can’t understand why we have been shut down. We have tried to do what Jesse told us to do. Our phone calls to Rocco and Jesse are not returned. We want to finish the outside now so when people drive by it looks good.”

Williams said he’s afraid the city had put the Joss House on the backburner due to other demands; but now that the problems have been brought to their attention the city has some concerns.

“I know this is an emotional situation and there are different viewpoints. I agree the communication should have been better,” Williams said. “This is a city facility and we just want to make sure everything is done right for insurance purposes. Kay, you and I will sit down together and hash this out. I will call you and set a time.”

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