TOWER—Business is booming at Lamppa Manufacturing, and that’s both good news and bad as the company struggles to meet a sharp increase in orders even as construction delays have prevented them …
TOWER—Business is booming at Lamppa Manufacturing, and that’s both good news and bad as the company struggles to meet a sharp increase in orders even as construction delays have prevented them from moving to their expanded production facility here.
The company, which recently became the first wood furnace manufacturer to meet the strict 2020 emissions standards set by the EPA, has been inundated with orders in the wake of that approval and the publicity it generated.
“We’re running 125 percent over last year’s revenue so far this spring,” said plant manager Dale Horihan. “That’s not 25 percent over, it’s more than doubled,” he added.
That increase comes despite the fact that late winter and early spring has typically been a slower time at the plant. The company has taken on additional workers to try to meet the higher workload, but the limited space in their current plant has made working conditions challenging, and even recently led to the plant’s first on-the-job injury in years.
“We can’t even walk over here,” said Horihan, who brought his concerns to the Tower City Council this week. The city’s economic development authority has been the developer of the new plant facility for Lamppa, with funding from a non-recourse loan from the Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation. The 9,000 square-foot building has been under construction by Lenci Enterprises for the past ten months. It was originally scheduled for completion last fall and the company’s lease with the Tower Economic Development Authority was supposed to take effect Oct. 1, 2018.
Given the extraordinary delay, Horihan said the company is no longer bound by the lease company officials signed with the city last July, which has an escape clause should the city be unable to deliver the facility within 90 days of the indicated start date. Horihan said the company isn’t looking at alternative locations, but the situation has clearly increased the possibility that the project could still go awry. He said Lamppa has already had to cancel an appointment with a moving company and would likely have to wait a month or more for a new date since the company was now booked up for the foreseeable future.
He said the delay is costing Lamppa money and will likely mean a loss of business if orders pile up that they can’t meet. “We’re actually a little panicked about what we might be facing later this year,” he said, given the volume of orders the company is already experiencing.
As of this week, the building remains incomplete and city engineer Matt Bolf said there was no sign of any workers on the site.
Company owner Daryl Lamppa was blunt in an interview on Monday. “The city hasn’t done its part,” he said. “It’s way too late and some of the things weren’t done right.”
At Monday’s council meeting, Horihan made it clear that both he and Lamppa were irritated by the delays, city hall’s lack of communication, and by the installation of equipment that was not what the company had requested. Horihan cited wash sinks that are far too small and lack any associated cabinetry for storage of cleaning materials. He also cited the three ventilator/air exchangers in the plant’s welding shop which are supposed to vent gases generated during welding to the outside. Horihan said the fans associated with those vents are typically noisy and with three of them in a relatively confined space he’s concerned that employees will have to wear full ear muffs the entire time they’re at work, which aren’t compatible with most welding helmets.
“We don’t want to expose our employees to this,” he said, in either case. “Continued exposure to over 85 decibels causes hearing damage.”
Horihan said he had requested a different kind of vent that had fans located on the building’s exterior, which would help keep the noise at safer levels.
Horihan also cited the lack of side-lighting in the plant’s paint booth and said it was critical to accurately paint wood furnaces, which are almost always painted black.
Horihan said he had noted the issues during a walk-through with SEH architect Brian Bergstrom in April but when he obtained a copy of the final project punchlist in May, none of his concerns had been addressed or added to the list. “So why was I asked to come along for a walk-through if the things that Lamppa brought up weren’t put on the punchlist?” he asked.
He said he tried to address some of his concerns with City Clerk-Treasurer Linda Keith in recent days, but felt he wasn’t being listened to. He said Keith told him that the cost of the system that Lamppa wanted was more expensive than the ones that the city had Lenci install.
“That’s not correct,” said Horihan, who presented a letter from the manufacturer showing that the system he wants is actually less expensive. He also took issue with Keith’s claim that the decibel level of the system that was installed was 80.5 decibels. He said the company had told him it was 85 decibels and that the decibel level would rise with three units in the same room.
“I finally hung up on Linda,” he said. “That irritated me.”
Horihan said Lamppa wants to maintain a very safe environment for its workers. “We can’t compete price-wise with the mines, but what we can do is provide a very good work environment. We can focus on their safety. We can focus on their eyesight, their hearing. We want to prevent slip and fall accidents. But when the city starts telling us ‘it’s good enough,’ that ticks us off. That’s just not right.”
Horihan noted that the city had a damages clause in its contract with Lenci for late delivery. In fact, the contract does provide for a fine of $250 per day for late delivery, a penalty that Bolf confirmed could have been levied against Lenci beginning in January of this year.
Horihan said he was stunned when he learned that the city had failed to avail itself of the provision in the contract, especially as the project has languished with little activity in recent weeks. “You’ve waited another four months and you could have been charging penalties all this time?” he asked, noting that he has been out to the site on several occasions in recent weeks only to find no one there.
Bolf indicated that city officials had discussed implementing the fines back in February but decided against it because last fall had been wet.
But the council, which had previously been unaware of the problems and delays with the project, was less forgiving. “We’re talking about lost revenue for an important business and lost revenue for the city,” said Mayor Orlyn Kringstad.
The council, after more discussion, voted 3-0 to notify Lenci that it would be implementing the late fines beginning immediately.
“Maybe it will light a fire under the feet of the contractor,” said Kringstad.