Depot Street streetscape plan becomes clouded

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

The fate of the Depot Street Streetscape project in Bridgton became even more clouded Tuesday after bids came in over budget for a second time.

Selectmen weren’t thrilled with the solution put forward by Anne Krieg, Director of Planning, Economic and Community Development, to make up a nearly $100,000 shortfall by shifting Community Development Block Grant money earmarked for improvements to the Town Hall.

In fact, the idea prompted Selectman Paul Hoyt to suggest the board take a second look at the project in its entirety. The streetscape plan calls not only for stormwater and road resurfacing but also beautification features along the quarter-of-a-mile downtown side street between Renys and the Magic Lantern Theatre.

“We do need to step back a little, to see if we want to spend the money” in the way the project has been designed, said Hoyt.

In early August, Dearborn Brothers was the sole bidder, but the bid came in nearly $300,000 higher than the $335,000 approved by voters. The board authorized some scaling back, and put the project back out to bid as a two-phase project, which fared better in terms of attracting seven bidders. But J. Pratt Construction, the lowest bidder, still wanted $91,513 more than the voter-funded amount. J. Pratt’s bid was $426,513.

Engineers Milone and MacBroom likewise adjusted their estimated construction cost upward to $434,344 from the $378,034 they had originally estimated. Krieg said the phasing included pushing forward $80,000 in work to the fiscal year beginning in July of 2015, which would allow most of the work to be completed before next year’s tourist season.

But she also suggested that all of the work could be completed by June 30, 2015, if the board was willing to authorize using the current fiscal year CDBG outlay for the Town Hall. “This allows us to get all of our permitting in place (for the Town Hall project), which we still don’t have,” she reasoned. The Town Hall would then be renovated after July 1, 2015, instead of the current target date of March 2015.

Board members were concerned about making any changes not in keeping with what voters approved in June. They agreed that the warrant language would need to be reviewed to see if the board even had the authority to make such a change in funding.

Hoyt said there were several warrant articles related to Town Hall funding, and they were worded quite specifically. “It wasn’t just an approval of a project,” he said. Member Bob McHatton agreed. “I wouldn’t want to have to go back and ask for more money” for the Town Hall project because some of the approved funds were shifted to another project, McHatton said.

Krieg said the county agency overseeing the CDBG program does not look favorably on towns that do not use their allotted funding in a timely manner, so it’s important that the Depot Street project go forward as soon as possible. Some of the $335,000 in funding comes from prior-year CDBG funds, she noted.

“The county just wants to see the project completed,” Krieg said.

Resident Glen “Bear” Zaidman said the board is faced with the funding dilemma because it relied on inaccurate estimates of costs when it went to the voters. “The project came in way over what we were told,” Zaidman said. “It wasn’t properly planned.”

Zaidman said the town would be better served spending its yearly allotment of CDBG funding on town sewers or road improvements — both of which are large-scale infrastructure projects that benefit a larger segment of the population and are pressing needs.

“We’ve taken out a lot already,” such as extras on lighting and benches, Krieg said, when questioned about scaling back on the project budget. That prompted resident Dave Crowell to ask what role selectmen were playing, if any, in revising the project in light of the bid results.

“Is there any payback” on the Depot Street Streetscape project?” Crowell asked. “Is it worthwhile to do?” He said the project has “got to be recalculated and you have to decide if you want to do it at all.”

Krieg was directed to provide the board with a list of all project adjustments made to date, and what work was proposed to be pushed forward to the next fiscal year.

Town Manager Bob Peabody said Bridgton, being a CDBG entitlement community that does not have to compete annually for funds, “can be a boon but it also can be a bane,” because of “the way we’re not spending what’s been given to us.” He said county CDBG Director Aaron Shapiro “is a big supporter of the Depot Street project” and the town needs to make sure it does not jeopardize future funding.

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