Williamstown project contractor will hold its estimate
WILLIAMSTOWN — The Select Board has shifted into myth-busting mode when it comes to the looming re-vote of a bond issue that would finance construction of a new public safety building.
On a night when the board declared war on what Chairman Larry Hebert described as “misinformation,” the most notable casualty may have been the board’s own repeated claim that delays associated with a second vote that it had hoped to avoid would drive up the cost of the $2.5 million project.
That, it turns out, won’t be the case, according to Selectman Rodney Graham, who said representatives of Summit Catamount Construction have indicated they will honor the $2.1 million price they quoted for the project through the May 6 re-vote.
What Graham described as “good news” comes at an opportune time, as board members prepare to persuade voters to affirm their narrow Town Meeting Day approval of the proposed bond issue. As was the case heading into the March vote, officials expect $2.5 million will cover the cost of constructing a new building that would house the town’s fire and ambulance departments and installing a wood pellet-fueled heating system that was bid separately. The figure that will appear on next month’s ballot still includes a 10 percent contingency, $30,000 for a clerk of the works, and money to cover an assortment of other pre-construction expenses.
Citing information supplied by Summit Catamount Construction, board members openly worried earlier this month that the cost of the project would spike by at least $100,000 due to the unanticipated delay, and indicated that number could easily exceed $250,000 if key subcontractors withdrew.
That didn’t happen, and while Summit Catamount had hoped to break ground on the project this week, the company will hold its price through May 6.
Whichever way it goes the re-vote will be the final word on a project that was approved, 298-283, amid some confusion last month.
The confusion coupled with the close nature of the vote sparked a petition drive that forced the board to schedule a special election, despite conflicting opinions involving whether it was signed by the requisite number of voters.
Rather than risk a time-consuming lawsuit from residents on either side of the issue, the board unilaterally agreed to schedule a special election at which voters will be given another chance to decide the fate of the shovel-ready project.
On Monday board members Hebert and Graham took turns setting the record straight on misinformation they heard about the proposal while the petition, which was signed by 137 registered voters, was circulating in the community.
Graham went first, noting that those who have suggested the project needs an Act 250 land use permit are mistaken. The new emergency services complex, which would be built next to the current ambulance building on Meadow Street, is exempt from Act 250 because it will be located on less than 10 acres of municipally owned land, Graham said.
Hebert sought to respond to those who have, he claimed, spread inaccurate information in an effort to fuel opposition to the project.
“There’s a lot of misinformation,” he said.
According to Hebert, that includes exorbitant estimates involving how much the project will actually cost taxpayers with interest and unsubstantiated claims that the town-owned land might be contaminated.
Hebert said test borings have detected no evidence of contamination and said the suggestion the proposed public safety building will cost taxpayers between $4- and $5-million was wildly off the mark.
According to Hebert, the town is eligible for a 3.5 percent loan through USDA Rural Development that would result in a total cost to the taxpayers of $3,240,000. He said the town has received a “verbal commitment” from a local bank for a fixed rate loan with 3 percent interest that would shave another $46,000 off that figure.
Both of those figures are measurably better than the worst-case scenario — $3.9 million — that was shared with those who attended the second of two public hearings on the project in the run-up to the Town Meeting Day vote. That estimate presumed the town didn’t qualify for USDA financing, which officials have since confirmed it does, and was calculated based on a much higher interest rate than is currently available.
Hebert also said those who have pointed to the five-bay building and claimed the town plans to expand its fleet of four fire trucks have either stretched the truth or misunderstood.
“That’s not the case,” he said, noting that four of the bays will be used for fire trucks and the fifth will accommodate the town’s two ambulances.
On a more light-hearted note, Graham said a typo on an informational flyer was to blame for questions about the culinary capabilities of a complex that does include a ground-floor kitchen area and a second-floor kitchenette.
“No there’s not three kitchens,” he said. “It’s a ‘chief’s’ office, not a ‘chef’s’ office.”
Plans to distribute another newsletter are in the works, and a public hearing will be held at Williamstown Middle High School on April 29 at 7 p.m.
“We just want to make sure everyone is very well informed,” Hebert said.
One resident who served on the public safety building committee told the board he was troubled by the fact that more than one-third of the people who signed the petition that has — at least temporarily — stalled the project didn’t vote at town meeting and only one, he claimed, actually attended either of two public hearings involving the project.
“You know the old deal: ‘My mind is made up, don’t confuse me with facts,’” Everhart lamented.
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