LANSDALE >> As Lansdale’s wastewater treatment plant is upgraded throughout next year, an outside firm will be keeping a close eye on when and how those upgrades are done.
Which firm will do that inspection was the subject of lengthy debate at Lansdale’s last council meeting of 2015, as officials debated who would be best to hire to do those inspections.
“I, as much as anyone on this council, like to save the people’s money, but we had three bids that came in on this project, and this was the lowest: they range from $115,700 to a high of $201,630,” said Councilman Jack Hansen.
“The spread like that really set off red flags for me, and I’m not really happy with accepting the bid” of the lowest entrant, Plymouth Meeting-based Cardno BCM.
For much of the past two years, council and borough staff have discussed the need for considerable upgrades to the wastewater treatment plant located on Ninth Street, and have vetted and approved contracts to increase the capacity of the plant and better handle high-flow events like heavy rains. Part of that process involves hiring an outside firm to oversee the construction of those upgrades, and that’s the motion council debated at length in its last meeting of 2014 — with Hansen suggesting council accept the $201,631 bid from Conshohocken-based Remington, Vernick and Beach, which serves as the borough’s engineering consultant on most other projects.
“We know them very, very well, and we know what we’re going to get from them,” Hansen said.
Since the request was technically an agreement for a professional service and not a formal bid package, council had no legal obligation to accept the lowest bidder, according to borough solicitor Sean Kilkenny. The concern Hansen raised — and councilman Leon Angelichio echoed — was that after bids came back considerably higher than expected for the wastewater plant upgrade project itself, a wide spread among the firms seeking to do the inspection services could mean change orders later on if one firm underestimated its costs.
“We all know that responsible contractors generally bid relatively closely — a very small percentage of difference between the lowest and highest — and this is double the amount,” Angelichio said.
Borough Manager Timi Kirchner and wastewater plant Superintendent Dan Shinskie both said they’ve worked closely with all three firms — Cardno BCM, Remington Vernick and Beach, and a third firm council members did not name and not mentioned in council’s meeting materials packet— and are confident all three can do the job.
“They felt that the expertise was level, and so therefore it does make sense to go for the lowest” cost proposal, Kirchner said.
Shinskie added that a predecessor firm to Cardno BCM was the company that did the design and engineering work when the wastewater plant was originally built in the mid-1970s, and were the borough’s engineering consultants for “10 or 15 years after that.”
“We didn’t really have any doubts that they could do this service for us. They’ve done similar services for other municipalities” throughout the area, Shinskie said, and have inspected pump stations in the borough in recent years.
Looking deeper into their responses to the request, Shinskie and councilman Steve Malagari said the main reason for the wide spread in cost estimates was the hourly rate charged by the inspectors to oversee the work. Cardno BCM proposed a $65 per hour rate for certified inspectors, well below the $105 and $110 per hour rates proposed by the other firms, and “that makes a big difference in the overall cost,” Shinskie said.
Malagari said a similar discussion was held in the public works committee meeting Dec. 3, and at that time he and councilman Tom Work outvoted Hansen 2-to-1 to recommend Cardno BCM to borough council. During the council discussion Malagari and councilman Denton Burnell compared the total hours listed by each submission, and even after adding extra hours to Cardno BCM’s quote their costs still ended up lower than the others.
Once those costs were worked out, Hansen made a motion to table the original motion by Malagari to enter into a formal agreement with Cardno BCM. Hansen’s motion to table failed, with only he and councilman Rich DiGregorio voting in favor, and those two were the only votes against awarding a contract to Cardno BCM.
Other action items approved by council Dec. 17 include setting the seasonal wage and salary schedules for borough employees in 2015, along with formally adopting the 2015 council meeting dates on the first and third Wednesdays of each month. Also approved were resolutions allowing the borough to act as a host municipality for grant money to be used on the North Penn Commons project currently under construction near the Lansdale branch of the North Penn YMCA, and bringing back a broker to help the borough shop for the electricity it supplies to residents.
During their reports to council, both Mayor Andy Szekely and Kirchner thanked police for their quick response and long days in response to recent shootings in the borough. Kirchner said she’ll also use the first council meetings of 2015 to look at the goals staff and council set for themselves in 2014, and see which have been accomplished.
“You should really be proud of yourselves for taking very good care of this town, for making sure that things work, and that they will continue to work for years to come,” she said.
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