BERLIN — A Select Board still hoping to reopen, if not repave, one of the town’s busiest roads before the end of the year, has bypassed the bidding process and sole-sourced a $600,000 subsurface structure.
Technically, the pre-cast concrete components of the bridge-like arch, which will replace the structurally compromised culvert that funnels Pond Brook under Fisher Road, will cost just under $595,000 according to the lone quote the board agreed to accept during a special meeting late last week.
Engineer Robert Clark told board members the alternative would have sacrificed the chance to install the arch this year and as it is the timeline — and the budget — will be tight.
The town initially planned to leave procuring the arch up to the contractor as part of a voter-approved $1.4 million fix to a road that has been closed to through traffic for nearly a year.
However, Clark, who recently consulted with contractors at the pre-bid meeting, said the consensus was that would push the work into next year and the road’s reopening until next summer at the earliest.
The solution recommended by Clark and embraced by the board, involved the town buying the structure directly from an Ohio-based firm — Contech — and placing that order immediately, while waiting for contractors to submit bids that won’t be opened until after the July 14 deadline.
Given the lead time required for designing, fabricating and delivering the structural components of the arch, waiting more than two weeks to place the order would have effectively closed the door on this construction season. Work in the stream has to be finished by Oct. 15 and even though the components have now been ordered they aren’t expected to arrive before early October.
According to Clark, direct-purchasing the arch while soliciting competitive bids for installation maximizes the chances the road can be reopened to through traffic before the end of the year.
There are risks to the strategy, which required the board to pay Contech $75,000 to order materials and start design of the arch that they were told will be considerably more expensive than initial estimates.
Board members are hoping that’s not a problem and Clark said it will eat into the contingency for the project and raise the stakes with respect to bids that are now being solicited for installation.
For planning purposes, the board had assumed the structure itself would cost roughly $460,000 — $135,000 less than the price the town just locked in. That leaves roughly $800,000 in bonding authority to cover the cost of installation which won’t be known until after the bids are in and opened after July 14.
If the town gets at least one good bid, work can proceed as planned. If not. If not, the board will have to regroup and decide how to proceed — likely pushing the project into next year.
Even if it doesn’t, Clark said the schedule doesn’t allow for any speed bumps and final paving will probably have to occur in 2022.
Board members agreed getting the structure in and the road reopened are the top priority and while maintaining a gravel surface through the winter months isn’t optimal, it is preferable keeping the Montpelier end of the road, which runs by all of the entrances to Central Vermont Medical Center and one of two that serve the Berlin Mall, closed for another year.
Town Administrator Vince Conti confirmed Monday the contract with Contech has been signed and submitted — allowing the company to begin work in anticipation of starting production of the components in August. If bids come in higher than expected or there is some other unforeseen delay, production would occur over the winter months.
Under the best-case scenario, Clark said the components will be delivered in mid-October and then need to be assembled by the selected contractor on site. By the time that work is complete, he warned, it is more likely than not weather conditions conducive to paving will have passed and that portion of the project will need to be completed next year.