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Bids rejected for second time: Washington on hold

Last month, Becker County and the City of Detroit Lakes rejected the bids for reconstruction of the downtown portion of Washington Avenue and rebid the project, hoping for lower costs. Bids instead increased about 10 percent, and were rejected again.

The project will be rebid again this winter, when construction companies are more eager for projects and will likely provide a lower bid, and will be completed next spring.

In the original proposal, the county portion on the shared project was $1.53 million. Now it’s estimated at $1.64 million.

Increased costs

Tuesday morning at the Becker County Board of Commissioners meeting, County Engineer Jim Olson said three new bids were received, with Hough coming in with the lowest bid at $1.963 million. The lowest bid originally was $2.7 million.

The cost of the project actually went up though, and the reduction in price was because of the items removed from the project list.

The biggest change in the cost was not replacing the traffic signals, which was about $550,000 of the project. Other adjustments were made including no outdoor electrical outlets along the sidewalk, changes to the water main and sewer portion and allowing the contractor to work on the project all at once rather than staging it to keep all intersections open throughout the project.

There were two start date options for the rebid — July 21 after the Water Carnival Parade and Aug. 11 after WE Fest. There was an extra $50,000 cost to hold off until the August date.

City Engineer Jon Pratt said there was a 10 percent increase in costs overall, and one of the major reasons was because of the use of concrete instead of asphalt on the street. The plan has always been to use concrete to carry the theme through from Washington Avenue north of the railroad tracks.

To get the concrete to set up that late in the season, there is an extra cost to what needs to be done to the concrete.

Pratt said that cost won’t be pushed onto the business owners though, and that they would be assessed as “vanilla” as possible. The extra cost will actually be paid by the county because it is a county road, though the city has taken the lead on the bidding process.

Commissioner Don Skarie asked about the savings of using asphalt instead of concrete, and while it would be a $260,000 to $270,000 savings now, Pratt said that over a 50-year lifespan, it would only be about a $50,000 to $70,000 savings to use concrete because of less maintenance to concrete.

“I’m all for asphalt if it saves money and shortens the project,” Norby’s Department Store owner Michael Norby said.

Regardless of the cost savings now though, everyone else said that asphalt has never been implied as an option because of keeping the theme with the north portion of the street.

What happened to help for county?

Pratt agreed that the street assessments are up, and Commissioner Barry Nelson asked where those assessments go. Pratt said the city collects the assessments to pay for the city portion of the project, though the county has to pay for the street.

The city’s share includes more of the underground infrastructure.

When the county and city discussed moving forward with the original bid last month and trying to negotiate the price with the contractor, Pratt said that the city would end up saving about $212,000 at the time with changes made to the project.

Of that $212,000, he suggested paying $50,000 back the county to help with the county’s majority of the project. When Nelson questioned Pratt on that Tuesday, Pratt wouldn’t commit to giving the county any of the city’s savings.

“What I see is our costs going up,” Nelson said.

Basement work put off

Four downtown business owners are also getting hit with having to fill in a portion of the basements that jut out under Washington Avenue. The city pressured the business owners earlier this spring to get them filled by a certain deadline, but none of the business owners have filled them yet.

Pratt said that a contractor had submitted a bid for the project, which was about what they had estimated the cost to be. With the project in limbo though, the contractor got other work. Another contractor submitted a bid for the project, Pratt said, but it was almost double the cost.

Pratt said that worst case scenario, the city will have to leave half of the sidewalk in place until the basements are dealt with and then finish the sidewalks. 

‘Can’t justify it’

Washington Square Mall Manager Dawn Olson said she prefers the project to move forward this summer rather than rebidding it this winter because there’s no guarantee on whether next spring will be nice enough to get the project done by July 1 as proposed. This June, for example, she said, has been filled with rainy days.

If the county and city were to move forward this fall though, she asked that it start after WE Fest because the downtown’s biggest revenue time is between now and the beginning of August.

“This seems to be a monster project we just can’t get out arms around,” Norby said.

He said that if the project moves forward after Water Carnival, the city and county are only taking what the contractor wants into consideration and not the business owners, who are playing a large portion of the project.

Price’s Fine Jewelry owner Roger Price said that he feels the project has been hurry, hurry, hurry and that he’d rather they wait until winter to rebid the project.

As one of the business owners that will have to fill in a portion of his basement, along with assessments, he said he will have about $30,000 to $40,000 into this project, and it “doesn’t make me feel very good.”

City Administrator Bob Louiseau said that if the county and city went ahead with the project, the $50,000 to start after WE Fest would be spread out to everyone assessed in the project.

“The reality of Minnesota is we have a short period (of nice weather) and that happens to be construction and tourism season,” he said.

Nelson said that he truly wants to work with the city on the project but that he had to vote to reject bids and rebid it this winter because of the increase to the county.

“I just can’t justify it,” he said.

Skarie agreed that he couldn’t support the new bids either because they rebid the project to bring in lower bids and it came back higher for the county.

The county board unanimously voted to reject the bids again and wait until this winter to rebid the project.

At Tuesday night’s Detroit Lakes City Council meeting, the council also voted unanimously to reject the bids.

Before the vote was taken, however, Alderman G.L. Tucker asked whether the city could move ahead with the basement fill-in, regardless of the decision not to proceed with the street project.

Louiseau said that was “a separate issue” from the street project, and would be handled accordingly.

Detroit Lakes Newspapers staff writer Vicki Gerdes contributed information for this story.

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.