Only one contractor responds to city’s second request for Main Street construction bids
In the most recent draft of plans redesigning Main Street presented to the Concord City Council the clock tower is moved from in front of Eagle Square south to a spot in front of The Works and Phenix Avenue is converted to a pocket park.
Concord again received only one offer for Main Street construction, and it was even higher than the lone offer that came in during the city’s first attempt to bid the project.
The city’s base estimate is $7.1 million for streetscape construction. During the public bid meeting yesterday, Purchasing Manager Doug Ross announced the city received a proposal of $13.83 million from Concord-based E.D. Swett Inc. Messages left with that company yesterday were not returned.
City Engineer Ed Roberge declined to comment at the bid meeting, but earlier this week, he told the Monitor he hoped the city would receive five or six bids.
Based on the number of general contractors who attended required pre-bid meetings, the city could have received as many as six proposals.
“We’ll have to see how high they come in,” Roberge said Wednesday. “It’s hard to speculate, but if they’re like the first bid that was at $12 million, we’d probably have no choice in rejecting and likely starting over . . . but we’ll have to see.”
This is the city’s second try to bid the construction project. In September, Concord also received only one offer from Pembroke-based F.L. Merrill Construction. At that time, the city’s estimate for construction was $6.2 million, but the single proposal came in at $12.23 million.
City officials rejected that proposal, and reissued the request for bids in November. Construction is scheduled to begin this spring, and was supposed to be done predominantly at night.
Yesterday, Mayor Jim Bouley said he was disappointed this attempt was not more successful than the first.
“We’ve now done this two times,” Bouley said. “Not once. We’ve done it twice.”
As the city council considers the project’s future, the mayor said he wanted to revisit the estimate provided by McFarland Johnson, the consulting engineering firm on this project.
Bouley also suggested the city could turn to the Federal Highway Administration for advice on how to scale back this project. A $4.71 million grant from the federal government would pay for part of the Main Street redesign.
“Well, I’m disappointed. . . . I think we’re going to go back to see why the consultants came up with the numbers they did,” Bouley said.
Engineer Gene McCarthy from McFarland Johnson said he was surprised to see a contractor yet again propose a price nearly double his company’s estimate for construction. The design includes reducing the road from four lanes to two lanes with a crossable center median, widening sidewalks and improving accessibility.
“There will be a lot more information as we look at the details, and get a better understanding of where their prices were and where ours were,” McCarthy said.
He declined to comment on how the engineering firm calculated its own estimate. E.D. Swett Inc. also estimated its construction costs if building were to take place during the day, as opposed to at night. That cost – $12.59 million – is still significantly higher than the price from McFarland Johnson.
It only took Ross about six minutes to present the lone bid from E.D. Swett yesterday. After the meeting, Carlos Baia, deputy city manager for development, said he would need to discuss the future of the project with the council.
“I think it is too soon for us to know,” Baia said.
Roberge said earlier this week the poor response to the first request for bids was due to bad timing; the city was required by its grant schedule to ask for proposals during the summer construction season.
The plans were more specific about required materials this time around, Roberge said, and more contractors asked pointed questions about finishes or other details.
“All of those little questions show people are looking really minutely at the pans,” Roberge said Wednesday. “Those are the types of questions that we’re getting.”
But too many questions weren’t answered until the last days before the deadline, said Josh Horan, who had been interested in building the snow-melt system as a subcontractor. Horan is a local employee of the Minneapolis-based company Uponor.
The city did release more information about the project, but Horan speculated that those details came too late for some of the interested parties to respond.
“Based upon what I saw, for last-minute information being shared, I’m not surprised there was only one bid,” Horan said.
Unlike Horan, some city councilors were surprised.
“We were pretty much assured that doing it at this point would attract a lot more contractors at a much more reasonable number, or one that is within our (price) expectation,” said At-Large Councilor Fred Keach.
At-Large Councilor Steve Shurtleff said the city would now have to reconsider “the whole idea of the project.”
“I think we are all looking forward to a refurbished Main Street and the positive impact that would have on the citizens of Concord. . . . I think in light of the bid we received today, it’s going to slow down that momentum at least,” Shurtleff said.
For At-Large Councilor Mark Coen, the heart of the project shouldn’t be abandoned even if other components need to be cut.
“There’s a core project on Main Street, and it’s about the street itself and the new configuration of the street,” Coen said. “And I really feel very strongly about heated sidewalks, the idea of making storefronts (accessible), that’s really the core thing.”
Ward 4 Councilor Byron Champlin, who represents the downtown area, echoed the disappointment of other councilors.
“I’m not sure in what direction the city goes at this juncture . . . but it would seem that this means we have to take a very hard look at the proposal and the cost estimates, and assess where the discrepancy exists between the assumed cost of the project and where it’s coming in from contractors,” he said.
The city will now review the bid it has received – and its options for the future of the Main Street project.
“I don’t see how the project goes forward with a price tag like what came out today,” Keach said.
(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)