Concord to solicit contractors for Main Street redesign project – again
For a third time, Concord will try to find a contractor for the Main Street redesign.
And this time, the city council has given its blessing to loosening some of the project’s restrictions, which were recommended by a task force of community leaders and business owners in fall 2012.
“I hope you’re successful in coming back with something that looks much like what we have today that is coming in at a much more reasonable cost,” Mayor Jim Bouley said to city staff.
“We’re not going to be ripped off,” he added.
City staff has said the current parameters – including doing all construction at night and maintaining a majority of downtown parking during the work – turned contractors away during the last two bid attempts. They will now begin an alternative bidding process, which will allow City Engineer Ed Roberge and others to work one-on-one with an interested company to come up with a cheaper plan.
“In this case, the key here is to try to keep it as simple and as flexible (as possible),” Roberge said.
Roberge said he could return to the council in April with a contractor and a plan, which Bouley and the 14 councilors would have to approve with a vote. While the cluster of downtown merchants at last night’s meeting did not have a chance to comment, they would be able to speak up before a final vote.
“When that happens, that will be a very public process,” Bouley said. “Public testimony, public input, a full-blown community special. And from that . . . we’ll decide whether we move forward with the project.”
Only Ward 2 Councilor Allan Herschlag opposed the new bid process, reminding the others that these restrictions came from the Complete Streets advisory committee that met for several months in 2012. His “no” vote was as loud as the “aye” votes from the rest of the council.
“If those are issues that we’re going to give the contractor an option to look at in order to make this more affordable, I can’t support this,” Hershlag said. “We’ve heard too often and too many times what a negative impact that would have on the businesses and how disruptive that would be.”
The council’s meeting last night followed two unsuccessful attempts to find an acceptable bid for the project. Last fall, only one contractor – F.L. Merrill Construction of Pembroke – submitted a $12.23 million bid, nearly double the city’s $6.2 million construction budget. When the city reissued its request for bids, only E.D. Swett Inc. of Concord returned with an offer. At $13.83 million, it was even higher than the first.
The council formally rejected the most recent bid last night and grilled consultant engineer Gene McCarthy of McFarland Johnson, saying this next attempt to find a contractor cannot return those same poor results.
At-Large Councilor Fred Keach expressed serious concern with McCarthy’s firm, which calculated the city’s estimates for the project.
“Once is a surprise,” Keach said. “Twice is a pattern. And I don’t want to do this a third time.”
McCarthy said this new bid process would pique the interest of more contractors. If the city can bend on its demands, he said, the job will be more approachable.
“So your single-biggest piece of advice is to do daytime construction?” Keach asked.
“I think you’ll get more interest,” McCarthy said.
Some construction could still be done at night, McCarthy said, but most contractors interviewed by his firm and city staff would want to do “substantial amounts” of work during the day.
Even though Concord Steam will most likely not be able to power a snow-melt system downtown, the council pushed city staff to come up with other options to heat Main Street sidewalks. During their conversations with contractors, city staff will now ask for more detailed prices and plans on that system.
“If we don’t have heated sidewalks, I’m really skeptical that we even move on with the project,” Bouley said.
As city staff goes back to contractors yet again, Ward 10 Councilor Dan St. Hilaire asked Roberge and the others not to compromise on the finer points of the Main Street redesign. The city needs to get a fair price for the work, he said.
“I think we ought to send a message,” St. Hilaire said.
(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)