2018-03-23 / Front Page

Port calls special meeting to finalize rec hall funding

By Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNKPORT — Construction on a new home for the Kennebunkport Department of Parks and Recreation could begin as soon as this April, but before that happens, voters will be asked to supply some additional funding needed to get the project to the starting line.

At their March 15 meeting, selectmen agreed unanimously, 4-0, to call a special town meeting to ask for voter permission to appropriate $200,000 from the town’s capital reserve fund.

According to Town Manager Laurie Smith, that account currently has an uncommitted balance of $536,893. At that same session, the town budget board also voted unanimously, 8-0, to recommend the transfer.

Selectmen were due to hold a meeting Tuesday, March 20, to set a date for the special town meeting. That session was held after the deadline for this week’s Post, but the warrant to be voted on called for the meeting to be convened at 6 p.m. on March 29, at the Village Fire Station on North Street.

By the time the special town meeting rolls around, selectmen will have chosen a contractor for the project. That decision was scheduled for the board meeting on Thursday, March 22. But even the lowest bid came in $29,500 over budget, leaving no room for a contingency fund, in the event things go awry during construction of the single story, 3,000-square-foot structure, to be located in Parsons Field, at 25 School St., in place of the 30-year-old mobile unit that has been the department’s home since 2002.

Voters at the June 2017 annual town meeting agreed to borrow $450,000 and commit another $250,000 from reserves to replace the current rec building.

Designed to match the recently updated look of nearby Kennebunkport Consolidated School, the new rec hall will have offices, a kitchen, bathrooms (replacing the current portables) and space to facilitate indoor programs. The site plan also calls for nine parking spaces. The town worked with the descendants of Henry Parsons, who originally gifted the property, to allow the new facility.

However, as the project worked its way through the permitting process and a spring construction date neared, the town’s contracted engineering firm — Portland-based Wright-Pierce — sent up a warning flare, cautioning that final bids might come in as much as $250,000 over its original estimate.

Sure enough, when the seven bids submitted were opened at town hall March 14, even the lowest among them was more than the $700,000 already allocated.

“Some of that had to do with the flooring we chose for the program space, some of it was about building code changes that the state made in the past year, but the large majority of it was just due to market price changes,” Smith told selectmen, at their March 15 meeting.

The full list of bids included:

 $729,500 — DiMatteo Construction of South Portland;

 $751,000 — Risbara Brothers Construction, Scarborough;

 $786,881 — Benchmark Construction, Westbrook;

 $822,000 — Doten’s Construction, Freeport;

 $839,000 — Hardypond Construction, Portland;

 $843,103 — Great Falls Construction, Gorham);

 and $961,800 — PC Construction, Vermont and Portland.

And that was just the base bid. The wish list of bonus round items included:

 Kitchen cabinets/additional storage space — costing between $8,000 (Benchmark) and $14,200 (Risbara);

 Keypad entry locks — adding between $2,100 (Risbara and PC) and $9,400 (Benchmark);

 Parking lot paving and striping — at a range of $14,500 (Risbara) to $25,000 (Benchmark);

 and installation of an emergency generator and underground propane tanks — adding between $22,000 (Risbera) and $42,000 (PC).

There were also indications selectmen might not automatically go with the low bid.

“There are some questions on the lowest bidder, on his experience and whether his references would want us to choose him,” Smith advised selectmen during their joint session with the budget board, although she did not name the firm in question.

During that meeting, Smith asked for a $150,000 transfer from reserves, as part of her annual town budget presentation on capital projects. That would have given the town $850,000 to work with, opening up the potential of selecting any but the highest bidder, although even that might be pushing the town’s luck with fate and the building Gods, she said.

“We would probably be able to finish the project, but we’d have no contingency. So, it would be very squeaky tight if we ran up against any issue,” Smith said.

As an example of how prices are spiraling in the current construction climate, Smith said bidders were polled on how much it might save to push the start date for the new building out to March 2019. The thought, she said, was that by offering more scheduling flexibility, the town might realize significant savings. Instead, it added anywhere from $25,000 to $50,000 to the final costs.

“So, what the market is telling us is that prices are just going up, up, up,” Smith said.

In fact, she noted that one of the bidders — she did not specify which one — had claimed it could cut the price $10,000 if it could get a green light to start next month, before its costs start to climb.

That sounded good, Smith said, except that the money would not be available until cleared by town voters in June. After all, while the town did have enough from last year’s vote to get started, it would not be good public policy to award a contract and commence to swinging hammers without every dollar in place.

“You never know, what if,” Smith said. “Voters at town meeting could say no.”

But selectmen had a solution — why wait for the annual town meeting? Why not hold a special town meeting?

Board chairman Patrick Briggs agreed with calling for such a meeting within the week. But the town did need a lead time of at least 10 days, to provide proper public notice. Still, with a five-month build time expected, all selectmen favored starting as soon as possible.

“I think the bigger issue is, let’s get it done. We owe it to the children,” Selectman Ed Hutchins said.

Smith was sure to note that any decision that would facilitate an April start date should not be taken as an automatic promise of the job going to the firm that had volunteered a $10,000 savings. Partly for that reason, both selectmen and the budget board agreed to recommend a $200,000 transfer to voters, rather than the $150,000 Smith initially sought.

“I need to work first on the bids I have in hand. So, I should be requesting what I know will get the job done, and then we can work on saving those funds,” she said. “My goal would be to certainly not spend that (entire) $200,000.”

Meanwhile, for many in town, including Recreation Director Carol Cook, the real win comes from knowing that at long last, the much anticipated facilities upgrade, however frugal, is at hand.

“Anyone who’s been here knows we have never gone after anything of this magnitude,” she said. “The process has been very exciting. The numbers not so much. So, what we’re looking at is a building that has just what we need to take the recreation department into the future.

“It’s also probably what we needed 15 years ago, but didn’t have,” Cook said. “But it’s a building that suits our needs. It’s not an extravagance.”

Special town meeting

Who: Kennebunkport

When: 6 p.m., Thursday, March 29

Where: Village Fire Station, 32 North St.

Why: A single-item warrant, to authorize the transfer of $200,000 from reserve funds to facilitate construction of a new home for the recreation department.

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