Guest columnist Ken Rosenthal: Expensive obstacles for library contractor

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Published: 06-19-2024 5:16 PM


The Jones Library in Amherst received just one unaffordably high bid for its renovation plans. It is now applying “value engineering,” hoping that a redesign and changes in materials will bring more bids at lower prices. That is an expensive effort that is not likely to be successful.

When a contractor considers whether to bid on a project, it looks at the availability and costs of materials and labor. It also considers the environment in which it will have to work, because it needs to include in its bid the costs to store and move equipment, material and people in and around the site of the project.

Here’s what the Jones Library environment looks like to a prospective bidder.

It’s in the center of town. There is no place next to the library to store materials and equipment, so the town is making space available to the east, near the railroad tracks and the old VFW hall. That means the contractor will have to move big trucks through constant traffic to and from the library site. Material torn down and new material to be installed will all have to move through the very busy town center.

Once at the site, the materials, equipment and workers will have to be very careful not to intrude on their neighbors. To the east is a library driveway they can use, but just beyond it and close by are other buildings. On the north side of the library is the perfect spot for material and equipment storage, but it happens to be the parking lot and only vehicle access for the CVS store, so it’s off limits to the contractor.

On the north side of the library, where major construction will take place, is the historic Simeon Strong House. That building is so vulnerable that an access easement is required for passage between the buildings, and the contractor must not get too close. Subsidence and external damage to the Strong House is likely and the contractor will be legally responsible for that.

These considerations make any contractor think carefully about how it can fulfill any contract it is awarded, and at what price. They surely affected the thinking of some prospective contractors last time, and helped all but one of them decide not to bid.

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The value engineering now being considered will be expensive to employ. It will change the original plans and yield a library building that will have less appeal to residents of Amherst. But it cannot make the construction environment any more attractive to bidders. To expect a better financial result the next time the project goes to bid is not realistic.

Ken Rosenthal lives in Amherst.