SUNDERLAND - Finding an acceptable building contractor to construct a new town hall continues to elude local officials, who have so far been unable to ink an agreement for the $511,000 project after two rounds of bidding.

One contractor, Philip J. Frasier Construction of Bennington, submitted a bid of $495,000 for the job, but that bid was rejected at a special meeting held Friday, Oct. 11.

According to the minutes of that meeting, Barry Hoeg, the architect of the proposed town hall, was unable to recommend Frasier Construction for the contract, "based on the lack of similar sized and scope commercial construction references," which was part of the requirements called for in the contract proposal.

At the town's Select Board meeting Monday, Oct. 21, the three members of the five member board who were on hand for the meeting discussed a recommendation from Hoeg to reject the remaining bids that were on the table, reduce the scope of the work to be performed and find ways to decrease the cost. Hoeg recommended rebidding the project for a third time in early 2014 with an eye towards starting construction in the spring of 2014.

However, that motion failed to carry, as the select board split 2-1, and without a majority of the full select board voting in favor, the motion was effectively sidelined.

David Kiernan, the board's clerk who presided over the meeting in the absence of Mark Hyde, the board's regular chairman, along with board member Steve Bendix, voted for the motion, with James "Cubby" Ennis opposed.


Advertisement

Jon French, the other member of the board, was also not present. After the meeting, Kiernan said the board would take up the question again at their next regular meeting on Nov. 4.

"The problem is, this building is designed already - if we change 'this,' how will it structurally affect 'that?' he said. "If we can't do it for what the town voted for, it needs to be re-thought."

The issue of constructing a town hall for Sunderland has been topic of local discussion for close to 20 years, and voters have set aside small amounts of money each year during March Town Meeting and placed them into a dedicated building fund. By this year, that fund had grown to nearly $160,000. Last March, during town meeting, voters approved a bond proposal for an additional $351,000 to finance the construction of the building. They also approved a design for the town office, that would be built on town-owned property on Sunderland Hill Road. The bond has been secured, engineering studies have been conducted, and the first round of bids on the project from potential contractors was concluded on Sept. 12, when town officials reviewed the five bids that had been received.

However, all of those bids were higher than the $511,000 the town had budgeted for the building. The lowest bid received was for $609,900, and the second lowest came in at $670,000. The other three bids were even higher, according to the minutes of that meeting, and all were rejected. A second round of bidding was authorized by the select board.

That round, held on Oct. 3, turned up the base bid by Frasier Construction of $495,000, along with a bid of nearly $589,000 by Herrmann Construction of Manchester. When the select board met the following Monday, Oct. 7, they voted to award the contract to Frasier, contingent on further negotiation between the select board, along with Hoeg, their architect, and Frasier, according to the minutes of the meeting. A special meeting was called for Friday, Oct. 11.

It was at this meeting that Hoeg raised concerns about Frasier's lack of comparable work history and commercial construction references. The board voted 3-2, with Ennis and Hyde in the minority, to reject Frasier's bid.

That led Hoeg to recommend the board reject the remaining bids, rethink the project and try another round of bids in January 2014, an idea that the full board will explore again on Nov. 4.

Nearly $70,000 for design and engineering studies has already been spent, leaving the town with about $440,000 in its war chest for the building.

"The town approved $511,000; so far it is costing $588,000, probably more, and this is unacceptable," Kiernan said at one point during the meeting. "That's why, at this stage, I think the only thing to do is go back to the architect."

The idea would be to see if there were some changes or modifications that could be made to the design that would shave off some of the projected expenses and attract a bid that would be realistic and acceptable, he said.

Going back to the voters for additional money for the town hall was not an attractive option, or a realistic one, he said.

"All the bids are coming in substantially higher than the money we have," he said. "Something has to be designed or re-engineered to get to something we can afford.... What's been presented, and what is reality, is currently about $100,000 apart."