BARRE — For the second time in six months city officials are soliciting bids to upgrade a 70-year-old swimming pool that will be out of commission and — they hope — under construction this summer.
Armed with revised estimates, ready to perform some of the work in advance, and poised to ask voters for more money to complete the job, officials believe they are finally positioned to advance a pool project that has been treading water for longer than anticipated.
It’s been nearly two years since voters approved a pair of bond issues – one that included $80,000 to redesign the structurally deficient concrete pool and the other $720,000 to execute that vision. On the strength of the favorable bond vote, the city was able to leverage nearly $225,000 in additional funding — most of it it in the form of a $200,000 federal grant.
With nearly $1 million to spend the city put the project out to bid late last summer in hopes that work could start last year and be finished in time for the reconfigured pool to open for an abbreviated season this summer.
That’s not happening.
For a variety of reasons, including an accelerated schedule that contemplated some winter construction, the city received one bid from an out-of-state firm willing to complete the project for nearly $2.4 million.
That was more than twice the engineer’s estimate and far exceeded the mix of money the city had at its disposal.
“It wasn’t affordable, it wasn’t responsible, and we think it was the victim of a number of circumstances,” City Manager Steve Mackenzie said of a bid that forced a reevaluation of the project after it was rejected.
That process involved conversations with the lone bidder and a local contractor who opted not to submit a proposal, the formation of a committee and more work for the consultant who prepared the design.
While that work was being done the decades-old filters in the pool’s subsurface mechanical room were being dismantled and disposed of – effectively taking the recreational resource out of commission until a permanent fix was complete. The underground vault, which is separated by a deteriorating concrete wall from the deep end of the municipal swimming pool, was the source of structural concerns flagged several years ago by the city’s insurer.
The last in a series of reprieves ran out after the pool closed last summer, and hope the work could be squeezed in between two swimming seasons faded as soon as the only bid was opened last September.
Flash forward five months and Mackenzie is cautiously optimistic a just-launched bidding process will produce better results. He’s also hedging his bets.
Included in the $1.7 million bond issue voters will be asked to approve on Town Meeting Day is another $250,000 for the pool project. If the bond is approved, it would push the available funding for the work to roughly $1.2 million.
Based on revised engineer’s estimates that should cover the cost of the refurbishing a leaking and structurally compromised pool, while constructing a new beach entry and a splash pad with nine features that would be an added amenity.
Revised estimates have pegged that work at less than $1.1 million, with the bulk of the cost – about $625,000 – tied to refurbishing the pool in its current configuration.
In an effort to play it safe, fixing what’s wrong with the rectangular pool is now being pitched to prospective contractors as the base project. The beach entry is now being bid as an alternate along with the splash pad, giving the city the ability to take an “a la carte” approach with respect to proposals that are submitted by the March 12 deadline.
According to the engineer’s estimates, the beach entry should add nearly $160,000 to the project, while the projected cost of the splash pad would be about $275,000.
A mandatory pre-bid conference is set for 11 a.m. on Feb. 24 at the pool. Contractors interested in submitting a proposal must attend that meeting, which should provide the city with some sense of the level of interest.
In order to keep costs down the city is prepared to do a fair amount of work – from decommissioning the underground vault to hydro-blasting peeling paint from the basin of the pool.
Mackenzie said that and other work will be completed by city crews by May 1 under a timeline he hopes will allow the council to award a bid for some, or all, components of the project by April 17. Assuming that happens the chosen contractor would have from May 4 until Dec. 4 to complete the pool upgrade.
Mackenzie said that should comfortably allow completion of the project before the end of the year and enable the city to plan to reopen the pool next summer.
City staffers are already planning recreational programs for what will be Barre’s first summer since 1949 without a pool.