BARRE — Plans to expand and enhance the Granite City’s 70-year-old swimming pool face an uncertain future following a just-concluded bidding process that in City Manager Steve Mackenzie’s estimation was an epic belly flop.
When it comes to expensive capital improvement projects Mackenzie has frequently noted “it only takes one good bid.” However, when you only get one bid — as was the case by Friday’s 2 p.m. deadline for contractors interested in the pool project — Mackenzie said Tuesday it had better be good.
The city has nearly $1 million to spend on the project its engineer recently estimated would cost just just over $1.2 million. Mackenzie said that’s a small problem compared to the big one that arrived in a sealed envelope courtesy of the one contractor — Weston & Sampson — that submitted a bid.
It was a big one.
The Massachusetts firm offered to complete the contemplated pool upgrade — complete with the addition of a new splash pad — for just under $2.4 million. That’s roughly twice the engineer’s estimate and far exceeds the mix of money — most of it voter approved and some of it federal funding — the city has to cover the cost.
Needless to say, Mackenzie informed the City Council he won’t be recommending they award a contract for the work and indicated while the bid will be evaluated and other options are being considered, none of the alternatives involve opening the pool next June.
“… I think it’s safe to say that we will not have a pool next summer,” Mackenzie wrote in an email to councilors.
Mackenzie echoed that assessment on Tuesday, noting structural deficiencies that first spawned the project hadn’t been resolved and absent significant repairs the pool will remain out of commission.
“The structural engineer will not sign off on the pool as it exists today,” he said. “It will not open again until it is fixed in some form or fashion.”
Mackenzie indicated the council, which previously canceled its Tuesday night meeting, could expect a substantive assessment and a list of yet-to-be-vetted alternatives when it meets Sept. 17.
“I don’t think it’s like we’re dead in the water,” he said. “There are options, but it’s going to come down to a question of: ‘what can people live with if we can’t afford the desired solution?’”
Mackenzie said he isn’t convinced the bid submitted by Weston & Sampson is a fair reflection of the actual cost of the project and acknowledged it may have been inflated by a requirement the work be finished in time for the pool to open next summer.
One option, Mackenzie said would be simply to solicit a second round of bids allowing contractors the entire construction season to complete the work.
Mackenzie said the compressed time and the inability to lock down sub-contractors prompted at least one local contractor — E.F. Wall & Associates — not to submit a bid.
Though timing and the cost of winter construction scared away some contractors and may have led to an unexpectedly high bid, Mackenzie said the wide disparity between the engineer’s estimate and the cost quoted by Weston & Sampson suggests the scope of the project will need to be revisited.
“I think we will probably have to re-scale the project,” he said.
Mackenzie said options range from eliminating plans for a splash pad and focusing exclusively on the pool to creating a much bigger splash park and abandoning the concrete pool that was constructed in 1949.
Mackenzie said he plans to reactivate the committee that played an advisory role in developing the proposal that was recently put out to bid and consult with staff members before making presenting councilors with options and a recommendation.
Mayor Lucas Herring said Tuesday a conversation will be required and expediting the pool upgrade as had been hoped was off the table.
“We can’t afford it,” he said, referring the Weston & Sampson bid.
That bid pegged the cost of the base project — refurbishing the pool and creating a new beach level entry — at nearly $2.1 million. The engineer’s estimate was roughly $950,000. The alternate bid submitted for the splash pad component of the project was just over $300,000. The engineer’s estimate for that work was roughly $260,000.
Mackenzie said multiple bids would have created a better frame of reference for the soon-to-start discussions that he expects will involve the committee, his staff and ultimately the council.
“I always say: ‘all it takes is one good bid,’ but the key word there … is ‘good,’” he said.
However, the council decides to proceed Mackenzie said the pool will be out of commission next summer and city staff are prepared to develop recreational alternatives for local youngsters. The hope, he said, is some variation of the project can be completed next year.
Voters approved $720,000 for the pool upgrade 18 months ago and the city subsequently secured nearly $225,000 in grants. That includes $200,000 in federal funding awarded through the Land and Water Conservation Program.
Mackenzie all of that money — just short of $1 million — remains available for the pool project.