With official bids received recently for two separate minor construction projects, both of which came in well above the original estimated costs, Town of St. Marys administrators are probably hoping that their efforts to ease the driveway slopes of many Carrall Street residents don’t also turn that major road reconstruction project into a budget-breaker on an entirely different scale.
The two recent surprises are, by comparison to Carrall Street’s full-scale, two-block, above-and-below-ground infrastructure renewal, certainly minor in nature. As provided to Town Councillors in two separate reports to a Committee of the Whole (COTW) meeting Tuesday, Sept. 16, both the replacement of the porch on the St. Marys Museum and improvements to the Elgin Street (Knox Apartments) steps are going to cost — assuming the projects still go ahead — more than initially thought.
At the museum, where the original plan was to complete part of the project this year and the rest in 2015, the staff report states that “during exploration with the engineers it was determined that you cannot do one level without doing both at the same time.” Not surprisingly, given this change of approach, the low bid for the complete work exceeded the planned 2014 expenditure by $20,000. The options brought forward to COTW were to either go over-budget in 2014, or wait and do the entire project a year from now.
In this case, it seems likely that the job will get completed, sooner or later.
With the stairs, the degree to which the low bid (in this case, the only bid) exceeded the original estimated cost is more significant — $71,760, as opposed to $45,500. And even though this project was approved under the reduced estimate in last spring’s budget deliberations, it seems less likely there will be an appetite to approve going over-budget without at least demanding a renewed effort to solicit competing bids. Indeed, Council directed staff at Tuesday's meeting to reschedule the Elgin Street steps project until 2015, and re-issue the call for bids in the hopes that there will be more competition — and a estimated price — next spring as opposed to this fall.
It’s on Carrall Street, however, that the true risk of significant cost over-runs came to light over the past couple of weeks.
In the late afternoon of Monday, Sept. 15, concerned residents gathered on the still-under-construction street in a site meeting called by the Town in consultation with the engineering firm handling the job. To get to the meeting, several of those residents carefully picked their way off the precipitous pavement edge onto a newly-installed sidewalk below, wondering if they would ever be able to drive their vehicle up beside their home again.
Explanations were offered at the meeting about why the roadbed was lowered to the degree it was, why it was shifted over to one side of the Town-owned right-of-way to allow for utility pole installation and a minimal removal of trees, and why the boulevard between street and sidewalk is of a certain width. It’s all in keeping with modern standards for road construction, residents were told, and the most visible side effect is the significant vertical gap that now exists between the new roadbed and where some driveways sit.
Town officials and engineers, they were told, wanted to discuss with each property owner how best to approach the situation in their particular circumstances. If it means creating a gradual slope that runs clean across the Town/residential property line, let’s talk about it.
What wasn’t going to be talked about, to the chagrin of some of the residents in attendance, was whether or not mistakes were made in the original design of the road. Some of their neighbours, meanwhile, countered that this much work has already been done; it’s not going to be “undone,” so let’s get down to deciding on solutions.
Town officials, meanwhile, have their fingers crossed that whatever solutions are suggested don’t push final costs too high above the original Carrall Street estimate.