Borough Council on Monday was not yet ready to take on close to $10 million in debt for a new public works facility.
Postponement of the vote to accept a base bid and five alternate bids came as a surprise to staff, after council members expressed support of the project and understanding of the cost at last week’s work session.
It came in about $1.7 million over the original estimate, but some council members acknowledged the improvements to the facility are an investment. The Osmond Street facility requires more storage space for trucks currently sitting outside, and it frequently floods. The plan for the new facility will address both issues.
Despite the previous support, the council voted to postpone acceptance of the bids until the Oct. 7 meeting.
The hesitation involved the five alternate bids. Those are an administration building, truck wash and fueling station, covered police impound shelter, public picnic pavilion and perimeter insulation for the cold truck storage building.
The borough also accepted bids for compressed natural gas fueling equipment, but with bids coming in near $1 million, staff decided to eliminate that option. Public Works Director Mark Whitfield also said that the borough already pays a very low price for CNG from the Centre Area Transportation Authority.
Rather than reject the alternate bids Monday, Manager Tom Fountaine said staff would try to more fully answer council questions before the vote and the council agreed.
Staff recommended the council accept the total low bid — comprised of both the base and five alternates — from Poole Anderson, which came in at $7.9 million, just $1,350 lower than the bid from ECI Construction. The original estimate was $6.2 million, but site issues contributed to the higher cost.
The project also would include $600,000 for professional services and $500,000 for contingency. Staff proposed borrowing an additional $800,000 to complete Atherton Street improvements that will include fencing and wider sidewalks. It was already known that borrowing would be required for the Atherton project, and Whitfield said it makes sense to borrow it all together.
That would bring the debt total to $9.8 million.
Councilman Jim Rosenberger first moved to accept Poole Anderson’s base bid and reject all the alternates. He said that would bring the project closer to the original estimate — the base bid is $5.9 million — and noted that Poole Anderson is not the lowest bidder on any of the alternates.
“It would make sense to rebid the alternates individually,” he said, later adding, “I’m just trying to save the taxpayers’ dollars, that’s all.”
Whitfield said it’s not desirable to have multiple contractors on one project, calling it a “nightmare.” He said the council must take all the bids from the same contractor, could authorize rebidding of everything, or accept the base bid and rebid the alternates once the site work is complete.
“Of course, the two issues we have are construction costs rarely go down and borrowing prices are continuing now to slowly tick up,” he said.
The bids are good for 90 days, so the council has until mid-November to make a decision. The time crunch could come in securing the bond and bank loan, once members determine how much to borrow. Because part of the site is in Ferguson Township, the borough has until early 2016 to start construction before the land development plan expires.
Whitfield said he thinks the council should approve at least four of the alternates. Poole Anderson’s $162,000 bid for the picnic pavilion — which would serve a dual-purpose stormwater basin and public athletic field — could be dropped.
“Quite frankly, my crews have built picnic pavilions before,” he said. “We could probably take that one out of the mix.”
Councilman Tom Daubert called it “the most expensive picnic pavilion I’ve ever seen in my life” and expressed concerns with the price of the administration building, $867,000 from Poole Anderson.
“What is in this building?” he asked Whitfield.
While Whitfield agreed the cost seems high, he said the majority of that is related to the council’s goal of it being LEED silver eligible, requiring the use of more expensive natural materials and insulation for energy efficiency. It also offers a higher level of security than the current facility. The public will be stopped at a gate before being allowed to proceed onto the site.
“Right now, everyone needs to drive through to get to the receiving area,” Whitfield said. “They have no idea where to go except for a small sign that says ‘office.’ It’s a security issue as well as a dangerous factor in that you have trucks backing up in and out of the garage. It’s just not a good idea to have the public driving through your facility.”