Main Street parameters add ‘inflation factor,’ city staff says
North Main Street, Concord during Market Days; Thursday, July 19, 2012. (Alexander Cohn/ Monitor file)
Many of the contractors interested in the Main Street redesign project have balked at the city’s parameters set for construction, like working mostly at night and keeping most of Main Street parking open, city staff told the council last night.
And to make the project happen at the right price, something’s got to give.
Carlos Baia, deputy city manager for development, said the city has interviewed contractors during the last week, looking for the gap between the $7.1 million estimated cost and the most recent bid that came in for the work at $13.83 million.
“The one consistent theme that we were seeing from the contractors was that the restrictions and the scope of the project, in terms of how the project was going to be done, raised some concern on their part . . . that either discouraged them from applying or certainly translated into an inflation factor,” Baia said.
Baia and City Manager Tom Aspell spent nearly an hour answering preliminary questions about the Main Street project during the council’s priority-setting session last night. At its next regular meeting Monday, the council will need to make decisions about whether to revise the scope of the project – and whether it will do away with some of those parameters that sold many downtown business owners on the project last year.
“In talking to the contractors, they’ve clearly communicated to us the restrictions are what’s driving this, whether it translated into mobilization costs or traffic control or prices for individual (items),” Aspell told the councilors.
Councilor Byron Champlin, who represents Ward 4, said the council needs to listen to the contractors’ responses.
“It sounds as if the contractor community was sending a message to us to say that we’re kind of asking for a little bit too much in our bid proposal,” Champlin said.
Baia cited several line items on the city’s request to highlight the price differences. Even on a routine material like crushed gravel, the contractor E.D. Swett Inc. doubled the expected price per unit that is standard to the industry.
“All of a sudden, it’s downtown Concord, and the price goes up,” Aspell said.
City staff will present some alternative approaches to the council Monday, Baia said. In his best-case scenario, the city could reissue its request for bids at the end of the month and begin construction in May, he said. Construction was scheduled to begin last fall and then pushed to April, postponed due to the poor response to the city’s two bid attempts already.
“I think we need to get more realistic pricing, and that might mean changing the scope of the project, who knows,” Baia said. “That’s really a discussion we need to have at the council meeting on (Monday).”
The administrators of the $4.71 million federal grant that would help pay for the project have also discussed new options with the city staff, Baia said, including a different type of bidding process that would allow the city to discuss the project one-on-one with the interested companies.
Ward 6 Councilor Allen Bennett said he sees the scope of the project as it is now as “an impossible feat.”
“I think that’s probably what drove this to the point it is now,” Bennett said.
Some elements of the project, such as the proposed snowmelt system for downtown sidewalks, could also be cut to save money, Ward 7 Councilor Keith Nyhan said.
“I think we need to look realistically at what components of this project we aren’t willing to go forward with, whether it be heated sidewalks, the plaza in front of the State House, some pocket parks, moving the clock,” Nyhan said. “There are some larger-ticket items that we don’t have to do.”
But many business owners on Main Street have pushed for parameters that will keep customers coming to their shops and restaurants during construction, like keeping 75 percent of parking spaces open at all times during construction. Ward 1 Councilor Brent Todd asked what follow-up the city will do to solicit feedback from downtown merchants.
“My concern is if they become concerned enough that they will be resistant to moving forward with the project,” Todd said.
Mayor Jim Bouley said the council could convene a special meeting if the council can’t resolve these questions Monday.
“You need decisions so that you can move the ball forward,” Bouley told Baia and Aspell.
The council also discussed its priorities for the next two years beyond the Main Street project, a debate that doesn’t come with price tags but sets a tentative focus for the group. Missing from that list was the Langley Parkway extension, which is slated for construction in 2017 and 2018.
“The last elected body, it was a priority,” Bouley said. “This body will have the opportunity to vote on it.”
The city council will meet again Feb. 10 at 7 p.m. in council chambers.
(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)