BERLIN — Plans to reopen Fisher Road to two-way traffic by the end of the month have gone by the boards and a “mistake” has threatened to push the price of the culvert replacement project over its voter-approved $1.4 million limit.

The Select Board was briefed about both during its Monday night meeting and while members were disappointed by the latest delay — one they were told will push paving into next year — they were disturbed by an error that could cost the town an extra $47,400.

Though the board approved a pair of change orders that collectively added nearly $100,000 to the $869,900 contract signed with DuBois Construction Inc. earlier this year, members agreed they want to know more about the mistake that led to the one that could cost the town more money.

One of the two change orders simply shifts the $50,000 expense for transporting the concrete components of a newly installed bridge-arch from the Ohio firm that manufactured them to DuBois.

For scheduling purposes, DuBois asked that they — not Contech Engineered Solutions — handle the trucking of the pre-cast components of the 28-foot long arch.

Board members liked the sound of the “net zero” change order, but Board Chair Justin Lawrence said they felt “blind-sided” by a $47,400 increase Robert Clark, of Otter Creek Engineering, said was largely attributable to a mistake made by Contech that required DuBois to make an on-the-fly adjustment.

“We didn’t see this coming,” Lawrence said, suggesting that wasn’t the town’s fault.

Though Lawrence didn’t object to paying DuBois for the unanticipated work and materials, he said he wanted to hear more from Contech before making full payment for components of the arch.

The town paid Contech $70,000 at the front end of the process, but board members deferred approval of its latest invoice — roughly $204,000 — on Monday.

After the trucking-related adjustment, the total cost of the work performed by Contech was just less than $410,000.

Clark told board members part of the problem stemmed from a strategic decision to expedite replacement of a structurally compromised culvert in an effort to reopen one end of the road that serves all of the entrances to the Central Vermont Medical Center this year. The Paine Turnpike North end of the road has been closed to through traffic for more than a year and Clark said it would have been more than two but for the decision to order the precast components of the arch while soliciting proposals from contractors.

Given the lead time required to engineer and manufacture the arch the board agreed to start that process before choosing a contractor to handle the installation.

The problem, according to Clark, who advocated that approach at the time, involved a mistake made during Contech’s preliminary engineering that wasn’t caught until after the bids for installation were in, a contractor had been selected and site work was underway.

Clark said bidders, like DuBois, relied on the preliminary design and by the time Contech provided detailed calculations that required a design modification a crew from DuBois was already digging and readying to install the concrete footings.

“If we had set and poured those footings this would have been a disaster because we would have had to take them out,” he said.

Instead, the error was caught, the dimensions of one of the footings was adjusted, and a plan that involved a “deeper dig” and an extra 4 feet of crushed stone to serve as a base was pursued, understanding it would cost additional money.

At the time, Clark told the board, he didn’t know how much, but with that portion of the work finished, he brought the change order to the board.

Clark acknowledged the increase was unexpected and significant, but stressed the town was simply paying for work that was needed.

“Having to put in that extra stone wasn’t the result of the error,” he said. “It was the result of the math being the math.”

The proposed increase would push the total cost of the project, which includes more than $100,000 in engineering fees paid to Otter Creek, over the $1.4 million figure voters approved in March.

Clark said the problem was identified just before Labor Day and was responsible for delaying the project by more than a week.

Though it was since back on track, Town Administrator Vince Conti said a mix of weather issues and problems obtaining some materials effectively ended hopes the arch would be completed this month and paved this year.

Clark agreed, suggesting a gravel surface will be installed for the winter and, barring any additional delays, the road should reopen to two-way traffic by mid-December.

“From this point forward, it should be moving fairly quickly,” he said. “We’ve turned the corner and are headed in the right direction.”


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