Report by Paula Antolini
April 13, 2018 8:47PM EDT
VIDEO: ‘Who’s the Captain of This Ship?’ Question Asked by McCorkindale About the New Police Station Project, at Meeting of the BOS, BOF, PS&BC
(Scroll down for video.)
It appears that the new Bethel police station project was given the go ahead to begin (notice to proceed) without a guaranteed maximum price (GMP), or final bids on everything, and now it is even more over budget than previously revealed, at an approximate $1,458,000 overrun, needed to complete the project.
Last night’s meeting included the Board of Selectman, the Board of Finance, the Public Site & Building Committee, and individuals from Downes Construction and Jacunski Humes Architects. Approximately 50 people attended, including Bethel Police Chief Jeffrey Finch and Bethel Police Captain Stephen Pugner, and many police officers. The meeting began at 7:00 p.m.
Regarding this project, at the meeting Board of Finance member Cynthia McCorkindale said, “I only have one question, who is the captain of this ship? At the end of the day, who is the captain in the sense of this going well or not going well?” There was silence in the room for a few moments.
Jon Menti, chairman of the building committee, finally spoke up and said, “From the building perspective, I am the captain of the ship. I’m the chairman of this committee. Again, understand though, and I understand what you are saying, I totally understand. We as a commission, when we voted to proceed with this project, it was a unanimous vote on the committee. It wasn’t me who made this decision, it was the committee.” … “We did what we thought was in the best to the town. Now looking back, could we have done better? Yes. No doubt about it. I’m not going to try and cover up anything.”
“After the first set of bids came in we felt, as a commission, pretty confident and comfortable that things were going well,” Menti said, “and we decided to proceed with this for a couple of reasons.” He mentioned wanting to get the building “winterized and closed before winter” but before he could continue, McCorkindale indicated that is not the answer she was looking for.
McCorkindale said Selectman Paul Szatkowski was the first one to stand up in October 2016 and say, “I have concerns about the project as far as the guaranteed maximum price. (GMP)” She cited many others who also asked for the GMP. Finally she asked for the GMP again in July 2017, she said. The “cost allocation chart” was not attached to documents as it should be, McCorkindale said, and she was told “this is normal, they are waiting for bids to come in.” She said it is as if they are blaming the taxpayers for thinking this project could be done for $13.5 million.
“Why the hell do you have a referendum?” McCorkindale said, “because according to the First Selectman, the budget’s a movable target.” She continued, “I think that you people are movable targets. I think that you’re moving around. Look at the brain trust of these people here, and nobody could listen to each other and say ‘I have concerns, I have concerns.’ … ‘Gee what about that guaranteed maximum price?’ ”
“What part of ‘Guaranteed Maximum Price’ and ‘Moving Target’ go together in a way that is not oxymoronic?” McCorkindale stated, “What part of that? It makes absolutely no sense.”
“There was so much warning here. So much. And the time to scale down this project was at the very beginning,” McCorkindale said, “Literally the boat is on fire Jon, and you’re the chairman.”
“There is nothing you can say to justify taxpayers in good faith voting for $13.5 million and having it come to this,” said McCorkindale, “There is no explanation you could possibly offer.”
PS&BC member John Perna thought McCorkindale’s comments were too “personal” and directed only at Chairman Jon Menti, but McCorkindale corrected him, and stated, “He identified himself as the captain of the ship so I was directing it to him.”
She then asked, “What does the language in a referendum mean when it says, ‘In the amount not to exceed $13.5?”
“That number, ‘Not to exceed,’ is a cost estimate, Perna said. “Look at all the notes for countless years, how long it took to get this to referendum. It’s a cost estimate. You could have something happen in the Middle East on the other side of the globe, if you buy a pipe today it is $10, and tomorrow it could be $20.”
The new Bethel Police Station project is stated as approximately $888,000 over budget but that figure does not include the $570,000 to complete the new police gun range, said First Selectman Matthew Knickerbocker, after the April 12, 2018 meeting had ended shortly after 9:00 p.m..
“We got a lot of questions answered but it triggered a lot of questions to come,” Knickerbocker said. “There were costs over and above the original estimates, maybe should have been anticipated a little better, but I’m not a construction person, so I don’t know that. There were certainly a couple of things that nobody could predict, things buried in the ground, but aside, like we heard the construction manager say, they were on target until the last two bids came in.” He said, “I don’t know why those last two things were so far variant from what the estimates were, I still don’t know.”
Knickerbocker agreed that many of the items listed by Menti, that were not anticipated, such as insurance etc., and had to be paid from the contingency fund, should have been known. But when we asked Knickerbocker who was responsible for that, Knickerbocker said, “I would think that the architect would put those in the soft costs.”
Regarding the Eversource charge to run an electrical line and transformer to the building, Knickerbocker stated, “This is not something new or unanticipated. There was an emergency generator spec’d from day one. So obviously you have to plug it in. So why that was not included, I don’t know. Same thing with cost of building inspection, $18,000 had to be farmed out, and that’s common, we go through the same thing with the schools where that cost is included. That really is beyond the expertise of the small town department. You have to bring in the experts to do that, plus it takes a team of people to a project like this. That should have been anticipated.”
Knickerbocker said, “The fiber optic cable for the 911 system, that should have been anticipated. Why wasn’t it in there? Those are questions we have to follow up on and really ask … it’s not something we’re going to be able to resolve before we finish this project, but certainly we’re going to be holding back retainage. We’re going to be asking for some real solid answers to that. And in some cases there are insurances that cover those things too.”
Regarding the final sign off before the project breaks ground, and why wasn’t a guaranteed maximum price given, Knickerbocker said because they used a “phased bidding process.” He said, “I signed off on the master contract, that’s not the Notice to Proceed, that’s in the hands of the building committee. My signature is on the contract that says ‘We’re going to build the building and these are the guys we’re hiring.’ Now the building committee gave the Notice to Proceed based on all the things that they said tonight.”
Knickerbocker said, “There is no one person responsible” and that “all was decided by committee.”
“I want to be clear on this. Mr. Menti chairs the meetings and these are committee decisions and they all voted on them,” Knickerbocker said, “I agree with Mr. Perna, it is not fair to point to Mr. Menti and say, ‘You did this and you did that,’ … “They don’t all sign it but he can’t sign it unless they all vote. Every vote authorizes him to sign on behalf of the committee, so you’ve got to take his name out of this. This is a committee decision”
Knickerbocker agreed that the notice was signed without a guaranteed maximum price or final bids being in. “That’s true,” he said.
“Let’s look at it from another angle, Knickerbocker said, “I think that everybody would do things differently if we could real back two and a half years and start over. But the folks from Downes, and maybe it was Mr. Humes, I think said it best, had we done that, we’d still be in the same position we’re in today because we would have found out the the building could not be built for $13.5 in the beginning instead of at the end.”
Originally the price was reduced from $14.1 to get to an acceptable $13.5 by removing or changing some items. “What the Downes people have told us that the price has changed so much that they can’t even get to that $14.1 and have it be the same,” Knickerbocker said. “The guy from Downes answered that better than I can, it’s the market, and the market fluctuates.”
Due to delays making things cost more, Knickerbocker said, “In my opinion, and again we have to discuss this, it would be foolish to not just do what we need to do to get the thing completed.”
Menti explained some of the costs, “We have what is called a contingency account for this project. We had to use almost $207,000 out of that contingency which could have offset that 888, but we had some things that happened that were totally 100% beyond our control. Now I’m going to go through the chart.”
Menti went down a list of six “extra” items, for a total of $206,828, used from the contingency amount, as follows:
$8,890 Insurance Bill / Requirement by the Town Insurance Carrier, Builder’s Risk Insurance.
$11,759 Eversource Bill / To run an electrical line and transformer to the building.
$18, 645 Third Party Plan Review / Building Inspection
$20,107 New 911 System, Dedicated Fiber Optic Cable for Central 911 Bank
$57,500 Cost during construction, buried Bethel Middle School “failed concrete” was found buried “dead center” of where the main structure was to be built. Material had to be removed, and compactable soil brought in.
$89,928 In early 1970’s a barn and silo burned and was buried by a farmer under where the shooting range foundation was to be located, and it had to be removed.
“That money would have offset the $888,000,” said Menti. “So these are surprises to us. I just want to make a clearer understanding that this contingency money was used to offset these costs, but these things, we had no control.”
Menti said they also made some changes to upgrade materials, choosing items of higher quality, that have a “longer-life-guarantee” to avoid situations like Bethel High School recently experienced with having to replace the HVAC for $8o,000 after a relatively short amount of time of seven years.
Menti also talked about other changes they did to keep within budget, for the original 26,000 sq. ft. structure, such as reducing the first floor by 2,000 sq. ft. and the second floor by 2,000 sq. ft. then also eliminating the shooting range, bringing the structure down to 19,000 sq. ft.
Menti said, “Understand this had two Space Needs Studies conducted on it. The first one was in 2004, the second one was in 2014,” he stated, “where the size of the building was increased by approximately 400 square feet and that was to account for a computer forensics lab now, which back in 2004 was not very common thing.” He claims that if they did not add the 400 sq. ft. for that purpose then, it would have cost triple that amount now, to add it.
Selectman Richard Straiton commented they he thought “the quality of workmanship and materials” was “phenomenal” when he views the building from time to time when passing by, but that, “We don’t need a Cadillac if we can only afford a Volkswagon … or something in between.” Straiton asked, “After you realized you were so far over budget why didn’t they go back to the site contractor and maybe reduce the concrete curbing that you’re putting in? And on the heating air-conditioning, why did they have to use welded pipe on the boilers? I just don’t think there was enough value engineering.”
Straiton also talked about bathroom units. “You know the toilets in the facilities, they’re great. They’re wall-hung units so you can mop underneath them, but I’m sure they’re very expensive vs. a floor mounted toilet.” He continued, “I just don’t think the architect or the general manager were involved in some of the value engineering.” He said, “The building is up so now the Board of Finanace has to find the money to get the building done.” … “somehow finding the finances to do the building in it’s entirety,” Straiton said.
BOF member Bryan Terzian asked if there had been any recent change order requests. Menti replied that there had been a few but the project overall had a relatively low number of change orders and many were rejected for various reasons.” Terzian said to Menti, “I am not here to attack you, I am not playing the blame game, I just want some questions and some answers.”
Terzian said his fear was that the 888 number was going to increase. “So before you come back to the Board of Finance and request money,” he stated to Menti, “could you make sure that it’s enough money to finish the project?” … “including gun range, landscaping, furniture, whatever it is,” Terzian later added, “so we can make appropriate decisions on other projects that we’re considering and prioritizing that people in town may want or feel they need.”
Terzian stated that he felt they (people handing project) knew it was over budget for at least a year an he wished they had come to the BOF before the BOF budget was made, and indicated there were problems. “We’ve learned a lesson here,” he said, “and again I know you thought I would attack you, but I’m not. I’m a lot more reasonable than you give me credit for.” …”Let’s go forward in a responsible, ethical way, and come up with a number for this board, that’s going to finish everything and not go over.”
“To be honest I don’t know how people haven’t stampeded this place,” said BOF member Cynthia McCorkindale. “I’m not going to blame, because I think that this snowballed so far out of control, that it’s like, you know, the snowball that started the avalanche. I don’t think you could even, you know, figure it out.” McCorkindale talked about doing a lot of work, based on meeting minutes and News Times stories, she said, setting up a timeline. “I don’t need my memory because I did a lot of work on this.”
She said she has experience being a volunteer on a board and knows what it is like, and “if you want gratitude look it up in the dictionary, that’s pretty much the way it goes. I get that. But I really think when you are entrusted with something this big,and then scoping out to the future school renovations, this is a little bit of a horror show, honestly.”
BOF member Bryan Terzian asked of the builders and architects, “Have you guys given any thought, based on your estimates, your expert estimates, telling us you are confident of getting this done for 13.5, share in any of the town’s suffering, in terms of our overage? Have you thought about it?” Joseph N. Desautel, Jr., CEO of the Downes Construction Company, answered a flat, “No.” Terzian said, “Would you consider it?” Desautel answered another flat “No.”
Terzian continued, “Okay can you give an explanation other than just ‘No?” Desautel said, “You have to understand, we don’t create the cost. What we do is we try to predict. We go out to the marketplace. The marketplace controls the cost based on programs and designs that you give us, that your consultants give us. With that, we go out and solicit as many competitive prices … as we can.” … “We would never have predicted the level of cost that came in from the marketplace.” Desautel said, “One gentleman mentioned that we represented that the job as on target. What we represented was four bids that were on target. We never represented that the rest of the jobs were on target until we went out to the bid market. Then we found out we weren’t on target.”
Boards, committees and everyone else involved will now have to re-figure just how to complete the Bethel police station without losing much in quality but at the same time holding builders and designers to an absolutely guaranteed maximum price.
There will eventually be a public hearing where people will be able to give more input. Last night’s public comments were only allowed at the beginning of the meeting, which some people objected to, and wanted it at the end, but Knickerbocker said it would remain at the beginning because this meeting was not for a debate.
There were many issues covered at this meeting, view video of entire meeting below.
We also interviewed First Selectman Knickerbocker after the meeting, view video below.
Bethel Special Meeting BOS, BOF, PS&BC Police Station Project / PART 1 / April 12, 2018
Bethel Special Meeting BOS, BOF, PS&BC, Police Station Project / PART 2 / April 12, 2018
Bethel Special Meeting BOS, BOF, PS&BC, Police Station Project / PART 3 / April 12, 2018
Bethel Special Meeting BOS, BOF, PS&BC, Police Station Project / PART 4 / April 12, 2018
Bethel Special Meeting BOS, BOF, PS&BC, Police Station Project / PART 5 / Knickerbocker Interview / April 12, 2018
VIEW PHOTOS OF MEETING BELOW:
Click on each photo to view larger.