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Bids put wastewater plant cost 50 percent over estimate

By Alex Bridges

The cost to expand Strasburg's wastewater treatment plant came in more than 50 percent higher than an engineer's estimate, and town officials want to know why.

Strasburg received bids from eight firms on Thursday interested in the project needed to expand the capacity of the facility. P.C. Construction Co. of Vermont submitted the lowest bid at $31.4 million, according to Town Manager Judson Rex. The lowest estimate comes in more than $1.1 million over the $20 million estimate provided to Town Council by engineer firm Malcolm Pirnie, now the water division of Richmond-based ARCADIS.

Town Council, made aware of the bid amounts, meets Tuesday and plans to hear from the engineer to find out how his estimate came in so much lower than the bids, Rex said.

"So this is very disappointing for us," Rex said. "We're upset that our engineer ... sort of misled us."

Bids can come in higher than cost estimates for municipal projects.

"I think it is unusual to get bids this much higher than the estimate," Rex said.

But as Rex indicated, the town most likely won't move forward with hiring a firm to build the project. Instead, officials and Town Council probably will need to revisit the designs and find ways to reduce the cost to build the plant. Going back to the drawing board, as Rex called it, would delay the project further. The town faces no state or federally imposed deadline to expand the plant, according to Rex. But Strasburg did see the plant's capacity hit 90 percent recently, and that set into action efforts to expand the facility.

About a year ago, Town officials put the original design through a value engineering study that reduced the estimated cost from $22 million to $20 million. But Rex expressed doubt any such process could reduce $31.4 million without affecting the operations of the plant or requiring more upgrades and maintenance.

The town stood poised to pay $20 million for the project, but Rex said Strasburg can't afford to spend $31.4 million.

Strasburg received approval to receive grant money to help pay for the project but not cover the entire cost. As Rex explained, the town applied for grants based on the engineer's cost estimate of $20 million.

"That creates a difficulty because the actual cost, the bids came in much higher," Rex said. "While the applications are still approved for up to certain amounts, because the bids came in so high, they're really forcing us to go back and look not just at funding packages that are in place for the project but also the design."

Town officials plan to hold a conference call with representatives from the granting agencies to discuss the situation and see what funding options remain available, according to Rex.

The second lowest bid of $32.9 million came from Mid Eastern Builders Inc. of Chesapeake. The highest price of $38.2 million and the narrow spread of the proposed costs provided by each firm confirmed the legitimacy of the bids, Rex said.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com


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