Depot Street extras: extravagant or smart?

Dustin Roma, project engineer for the Depot Street Streetscape Project.

Dustin Roma, project engineer for the Depot Street Streetscape Project.

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Faced with a project that turned out to be much more expensive than first thought, Bridgton Selectmen on Tuesday debated on how far the Depot Street Streetscape Project should be scaled back.

But first, Selectman Paul Hoyt wanted to know how the project's design engineers from Milone & MacBroom could have gotten it so wrong.

The project was estimated to cost $378,034, but bids initially came back nearly $300,000 higher, and were still around $100,000 higher when it was bid out a second time.

"The contingency's already in there," said Hoyt, noting the $78,000 contingency as part of the $378,034 engineer's estimate, "and it still came in one third higher? That's a huge gap."

Hoyt said he was "particularly upset" because selectmen used the engineer's estimate as the basis for going to voters with a request to use TIF funds to supplement Community Development Block Grant funds.

"I'm trying to figure out what we got for our money, because we've been planning this for a year," Hoyt said.

Dustin Roma, project engineer from Milone & MacBroom, said his firm relies on state Department of Transportation published bid amounts as well as their own analysis of the competitiveness of various projects to come up with cost estimates for a project.

"One of the factors is dealing with the new uptick in construction activity," Roma said. "Everybody's real busy now," and "We weren't used to seeing that." Construction activity has been on an upswing since 2007, he said.

Roma said the project was bid out as a line-item project rather than a lump sum project, so that the board would have a clear idea of what each element costs. With Anne Krieg, Bridgton's Director of Planning, Economic and Community Development, Roma identified a list of 10 items, totaling $120,430, that could be deferred until the next fiscal year. By creating a two-phase project, the work done in the current fiscal year could stay within the $335,000 in available CDBG and TIF funds that voters have already approved.

The list of items that would be deferred until the 2015 fiscal year includes: a flagpole and wall ($11,800), benches and trash cans (7,000), street trees ($7,000), light poles and fixtures ($27,400), pump station building ($6,000), final electrical wiring ($7,000), surface pavement ($25,625), pavement markings ($19,605), loam, seed and mulch ($6,000) and materials testing ($3,000).

However, another option would be for the town to simply scale back the project by removing some of the pricier items like thermoplastic pavement markings, which are permanent, and replacing them with paint. Selectman Chairman Bernie King seemed to favor that approach, saying in his view some of the items represent "extravagant" spending.

Selectman Bob McHatton suggested that the town could do some of the work in order to save money.

Board member Ken Murphy urged caution in making too many cuts to the project.

"If we just band-aid it, and don't do it the way it was shown to us, we're making a big mistake," Murphy said. "That's going to be a showcase for the downtown."

Town Manager Bob Peabody agreed with Murphy.

"You're looking at a project that is going to be a long-lasting symbol of your community," Peabody said "The way you get people to come to your community is through how attractive your streetscape is. This could be the catalyst for the downtown going forward."

Hoyt said it seemed to him that some of the proposed design elements of the project represent "the Cadillac version" of what is needed to make the street attractive. "In five to seven years, we wouldn't know the difference" if a less costly alternative was used, he said.

Selectman Doug Taft said he has seen the town "downgrade" projects before in order to save money, only to regret it later. "We shouldn't lose sight of it being a 20-year project."

The board agreed to table any action until their next meeting. The low bidder, J. Pratt Construction, has been agreeable to negotiate further with the town on its $426,513 bid.

 

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