O.B. shocker: Town hall bid is 22 percent over budget

Only two contractors placed bids on new town hall; project will like be rebid.

A rendering of Oak Bluffs town hall. Construction will have to wait as the bids came in too high.

The bids for the Oak Bluffs Town Hall have come in $1.7 million and $2 million over budget and will likely have to be rebid, according to town officials.

Only two contractors bid on the new town hall, which is priced at $7.8 million for construction.

“I was blown away, and I think everyone at the table was blown away,” Bill McGrath, building committee chairman, said Friday. The bids were opened Wednesday afternoon.

“It’s not a gap, it’s a chasm,” selectman Brian Packish told The Times. Packish posted about the bids on social media, saying the public has a right to know that the project they approved didn’t come in at the price that was estimated.

Town administrator Robert Whritenour said the overall budget for the project, $9.9 million, includes the temporary town hall that is currently being put together and the furnishings for the new building. “It was kind of interesting,” he said of the bids. “We need to get to the bottom of it.”

To that end, McGrath is traveling off-Island Tuesday with the architect, Keenan & Kenny of Falmouth, and project manager Daedalus Projects, to meet with the low bidder, Scanlon-Dellbrook of Falmouth, to see why their estimates are so off from what was estimated. The second bidder was Maron of Providence, R.I.

Both McGrath and Whritenour said the town and its consultants will look at what can be pared away in order to still meet the needs of the town.

“Never having done that, I’m a bit apprehensive,” McGrath said.

Whritenour was optimistic there are things that could be taken out of the project without changing the building too much. It will take some work, though, because the paperwork laying out the scope is 2½ inches thick. “We’re going to turn over every stone in the design,” he said. “I’m keenly aware of the product we identified for the town.”

Packish isn’t sure that’s possible. “Sometimes I look at things too simply. If I call and order a Range Rover and I come the next day to pick up my Range Rover and I get a Ford Ranger, I don’t think I got what I paid for,” he said.

It make take going back to voters with a more realistic number of what the project costs to see if they’re willing to support it, Packish said. “If this was a $300,000 difference, I’d say let’s enter into the contract and see where we can make miniscule changes,” he said.

McGrath will report on the bids to the full board of selectmen Tuesday night.

Unless Scanlon somehow made a mistake in its bid, the town will likely have to issue new requests for proposals, a process that will add at least six weeks to the entire process, McGrath said. “It’s a ball up in the air I’ve not yet played with,” he said.

In some ways the new bid process might be better, because the town was seeking a contractor during a busy season, he said. Six contractors requested materials on the project, but only two issued bids, McGrath said.

Packish said the building committee may be the victim of a good economy. “Some of this, in their defense, is reflective of the current economy and the amount of building going on,” he said. “I don’t think there are a lot of businesses that are able to bid on projects of this type that are starving for business right now.”

On Tuesday night at the selectmen’s meeting, McGrath told selectmen the bids rang in over budget because of the “white-hot economy.” He also cited tariffs on materials and a lack of quality tradesmen as factors for the high price.

McGrath offered several solutions to lower the cost: removing the basement, using less “glamorous” millwork for the cabinetry, changing the design of the coffered ceiling in the meeting room, and other alterations that would keep the design intact and lower the price.

McGrath asked the selectmen to give the committee four weeks to get together a cheaper design. “Within four weeks, we’ll come back to the board and say here’s what we got, we think you should go forward, or here’s what we got, we think you should pull the plug,” McGrath said.

Packish said he was “leery” of spending more money on having new design plans drawn up.

Selectman Jason Balboni, who is also on the building committee, said he was shocked that the bids came in so much higher than the estimates, but said the building committee should be given time to come up with a better plan.

The selectmen praised McGrath’s efforts and agreed to have the committee work on a cheaper design. No formal vote was taken.

Meanwhile, the temporary town hall is coming along, McGrath told The Times in a previous interview. Finishing touches are being completed, including paving, so that it would be move-in-ready after Memorial Day. The town may wait an extra week to make that move, he said.

Brian Dowd contributed to this report.