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Strasburg: Council blasts firm on plant estimate

By Alex Bridges

Strasburg Town Council on Tuesday put an engineering firm on the spot for underestimating the cost of a wastewater treatment plant project by more than $11 million.

Representatives of Malcolm Pirnie apologized to council and admitted the firm made a mistake by not advising the town the preliminary estimate of $20 million had increased to approximately $34 million. The firm's representatives explained its staff working on the project worked over the past months to update and adjust the figures that in turn led to the higher estimate.

However, the representatives admitted that they knew of the higher estimate as of Sept. 18, but the documents got "buried under paperwork" and they failed to pass that information on to Strasburg staff as the town started to advertise for bids for the project.

Council members expressed disappointment and frustration at the apparent oversight and some questioned whether the town should maintain its relationship with Malcolm Pirnie. The town has already spent approximately $2 million on engineering work related to the project.

Malcolm Pirnie representatives indicated the firm has been in contact with the agencies responsible for providing grant funding for the project to see if they can adjust the award amounts to reflect the higher cost estimate.

Councilman Donald M. Le Vine questioned why the firm waited so late in the process to update the cost estimate.

"What it comes down to is -- I speak for myself, I can't speak for other people here -- why should we trust you in the future to do it right," Le Vine said. "It is a blunt question, but it's also the right question to ask because it all comes down to trust."

New England firm PCI submitted the lowest bid for the project at $31.4 million. After the bids were open Thursday, Town Manager Judson Rex sent a memo to council members alerting them to the fact the lowest cost came in much higher than estimated.

Since the bids were opened, Malcolm Pirnie has been in negotiations with PCI to see if the firm could reduce the cost estimate. Those negotiations likely will continue.

Prior to the discussion of the cost estimates with the firm's representatives, council voted 7-0 to approve resolutions of support for borrowing money for the project. The resolutions do not obligate the town to borrow the amounts as indicated, but as officials indicated leave the door open for when council does move forward on the project, hires the building firm and takes out the loans in the form of bonds.

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


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