MARATHON -- Marathon's City Council has been put on notice that its City Hall project may likely cost more than the $5.5 to $6 million planned due to a truncated bidding period, which could reduce the number of prospective contractors or force the eventual winner to seek cost adjustments.
Controversy over the Sept. 7 letter sent by project architect William P. Horn to City Manager Roger Hernstadt cut last week's City Council meeting short.
During closing comments, Councilman Dick Ramsay expressed "major concerns" over the letter, for which he claimed he had to "insist" in order to obtain a copy from city staff.
But Mayor Mike Cinque interrupted his colleague before any information about the letter's contents could be shared publicly. Cinque said the matter should have been added as an agenda item if Ramsay wished to discuss it.
"You gave me the floor," Ramsay replied.
City staff told the Free Press afterward that this wasn't the first time Ramsay attempted to bring up issues in his closing comments that, according to council procedures, should have been addressed as agenda items. Council members are afforded the opportunity at the start of each meeting to add agenda items. Ramsay was silent when Cinque asked if the council members had any add-ons.
In spite of Cinque's warning, Ramsay pressed on. He said waiting two weeks for the next council meeting, where presumably the letter would be an agenda item, was too long. Ramsay said issues raised by the letter could put the city in jeopardy.
"You are out of order!" Cinque shouted, warning Ramsay to end discussion of the letter and finish his closing comments.
Ramsay cautioned the city to "slow it down."
Vice Mayor Richard Keating and Councilwoman Ginger Snead had no comment.
Councilman Chris Bull, however, said he also had concerns about the letter and suggested a special call meeting be held to address it.
Cinque told Bull to add the letter to the next meeting's agenda if he felt discussion was necessary. A special call meeting was not warranted, he said.
Bull asked City Attorney John Wolfe about who has the authority to initiate a special call meeting.
Before Wolfe could respond, Cinque pounded the gavel and declared that the meeting was adjourned.
According to a copy of the letter obtained by the Free Press, Horn expresses his concerns that "the untypical bidding process and extremely short bidding time frame" for the City Hall project could create problems, including fewer bidders and eventually change orders, and says he doesn't want his firm to be held responsible.
Hernstadt has asked Horn to complete the project's construction documents by Sept. 23 so that bids from contractors can be submitted by Oct. 3.
Horn, however, fears that schedule doesn't provide contractors sufficient time to review construction details before being required to bid on the project. Contractors will only have 10 days to review project specifications, which means they will be forced to develop bids almost entirely on design development documents, which are far less detailed.
Because of the short time frame, Horn warns that contractors could add contingency costs for items they can't accurately calculate, thereby increasing the total amount of the bid.
"Additionally, many bidders may not want to bid under this time frame, which gives us less competition," Horn wrote.
Horn cautions that allowing his firm just three weeks to finalize construction documentation isn't sufficient to "finalize all details and coordinate all of our drawings properly."
"There will be confusion," Horn warned, which could result in the eventual contractor submitting cost adjustment requests, known as change orders, which typically increase a project's overall price tag rather than reduce it.
When asked after the meeting about Cinque's response to his attempts to discuss the letter, Ramsay said, "I believe everyone needs to be aware of things that are going on in the city and hopefully react by coming to meetings ... and press[ing] the elected officials to do the right thing."