Archive for Thursday, March 8, 2007

Downtown project hits same old snag

March 8, 2007

For the second time in a year, when bids were opened for the $1.2 million Downtown Streetscape Project, there was only one bid to open.

It was too high -- more than $1 million more than what engineers have said the project should cost -- and was rejected. Now the Baldwin City Council is back to square one, looking at all possibilities to save the project -- including not having the Maple Leaf Festival, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary this year.

"Again, we got one bid," said City Administrator Jeff Dingman. "It still cost too much money. I don't know what else to say about it."

Even more than money, it's time that's at issue, said Utility Director Bill Winegar.

"The basic problem is time frame," said Winegar. "Having it done by Maple Leaf. They can't do it in that amount of time. The engineer says it can be done."

Council members wanted to know what the next step is.

"What we've done so far is send a letter to KDOT to extend the bid letting to May 28," said Dingman. "We'll work around the Maple Leaf Festival. Demobilize on Oct. 1 and start over after Maple Leaf."

That's when "it" came up.

"Demobilization," said Mayor Gary Walbridge. "That's going to drive the cost up. Maybe we need to consider the possibility of not having Maple Leaf."

That brought gasps.

"We can't even seriously talk about not having Maple Leaf," said Council Member Tony Brown.

"Factor in bad weather," said Walbridge. "We're talking about business people who can't open their businesses. Who are they going to sue, the city, the contractor?"

Winegar said everything could be worked around.

"There are some businesses that will be disrupted," he said. "These things can be overcome. The numbers were extremely high. There will be lots of subcontractors. I think that Maple Leaf can be worked around."

He said that with the new bid letting, it will be 60 days before anything can be started. He said he thinks there will be more bids if the timeframe is changed.

"If we're going to do this, it needs to happen now," said Winegar.

The mayor then brought up another idea.

"Is there a possibility to put this off for another year?" he said.

Dingman said that was possible, but he doubts the Kansas Department of Transportation would care for that. He also doubts a price tag such as the $2.4 million bid for participating items and 2.6 million for non-participating items submitted by Meadows Construction in the last go around won't fly with KDOT.

"It is probably technically possible, although clearly not preferable," Dingman said Tuesday of delaying the project a year. "The grant was for a two-year period, but that doesn't mean we have to have it all spent in that period. As long as we're working on the project and trying to get it done, KDOT will work with us on the timing.

"KDOT is on the hook for 80 percent of what the cost will be -- all except the waterline replacement portion, they aren't paying for any of that," he said. "That said, though, KDOT also gets to approve the bids before we award a contract and issue a notice to proceed. The indication I got is that they would not have approved the bid we received. If we had several bids all in that same range, they likely would evaluate it closer."

Dingman said there will also be adjustments made when the bids go out the next time, mostly to address the time-frame issue.

"When we re-bid on March 28, we'll give contractors a little more say on when they start the work and then extend the work days from 180 to 240, with the provision that they'll have to work around the Maple Leaf Festival in October," he said. "That should give us a significant reduction in cost of the bids."

The council discussed other possibilities, but came back to the issue of the lack of bidders.

"I thought it was real strange that we only got one bid," said Council Member Ted Brecheisen, Jr.

Winegar said there was initial interest.

"I felt like we had a good turnout for the pre-bid meeting," said Winegar. "They all bailed out."

Brown thought with the construction business slowed, there would have been more. He also wondered if the project could be split into segments.

"I'm thinking these guys would be hungry," said Brown. "We've cut back this project as much as possible. We've scaled it back. Is there a way we can do this in phases?"

"Those are things we can do," said Winegar.

"Do part of it this summer and another part next summer?" asked Brown.

The council then voted 4-0 to reject the bid. Council Member Nancy Brown wasn't at the meeting.

"Do we have a second option if we don't get any bids March 28?" asked T. Brown. "No plan B?

"Plan B will be we make some hard decisions," said Walbridge.

In the only two business items of the meeting, the council unanimously approved the purchase of three trucks from Beckman Ford of Garnett for $80,029.57 and an agreement with the Santa Fe Trail Historical Society for lease of the Santa Fe Depot Building.

The council met for an hour in executive session, but took no action.

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