Spending on Barnard House questioned again

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Supervisor questions liability of ‘value engineering’ versus a rebid of the renovation project

By Kelli Siehl, Staff Writer, The Times

Pocopson supervisors appear to be split on whether to rebid the renovation project for the Barnard House, or attempt to ‘Value Engineer’ the existing bids. There is some disagreement about the potential for legal issues with the later course of action.

POCOPSON — Township officials went another round with residents at Monday’s Board of Supervisor’s meeting over proposed plans to renovate the historic Barnard House into usable space for municipal government.

Earlier this month, bids received from four separate packages were “too high” according to Supervisors’ Chair, Steve Conary, coming in at $1.02 million – plus additional expenses for construction management and contingency costs.

According to officials, the township is faced with several options including: 1) value engineering –  meeting with the current low bidders and taking a closer look at the project to see if other materials or methods can be used to save money, yet still offer similar quality and benefits,  2) rejecting the bids and sending the project back to the architect to be reworked and the new package then be put out for bid or 3) tabling the project and revisiting at another time while continuing to budget each year to cover expenditures for the building’s upkeep.

At the Sept. 5 Board of Supervisors meeting, board members agreed to table the matter and pursue ‘value engineering’ to legally decrease the cost of the project as well as save time and the added expense of reworking the package for rebid.

During Monday’s meeting, Supervisor Ricki Stumpo weighed in, reading a written statement outlining recommendations from the Township’s architect on the project, Dennis Melton, the Township Solicitor, Ross Unruh and the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors (PSATS) to reject all bids and rebid the package.

Stumpo, unable to be at the Oct. 8 Supervisors’ meeting when a proposed decision will be made, said she favors following PSATS advice and feels value engineering opens the township to lawsuits. She added she would also like to see environmental considerations included, such as geothermal or solar energy, to satisfy the 2008 resolution in which officials agreed to “lead the community in clean energy.”

Conary stressed that although value engineering is taking place with the low bidders – “they understand that there’s no guarantee they will get the contract out of this…there’s no obligation on anybody’s part.”  In addition, Conary added that he also believes the project will be rebid.

Township resident Scott Kirkland said he’s concerned about the township engineer’s recommendation to budget $80,000 a year for the Department of Environmental Protection’s plan to renew the township’s MS4 Permit, questioning why officials chose to budget only $16,000 on that project while spending $50,000 a year on the upkeep of the Barnard property.  Kirkland asked officials if the current township building is meeting the needs of the community – “Don’t you have a fiduciary responsibility to spend the tax payers’ money on things that are required of the government rather than wishes and needs of the township?”

Conary countered saying “not all agree that this (current) building meets our needs,” citing less than adequate working conditions for township employees.  Conary explained that officials are objecting to the Sediment Plan because “there’s no way to tell if that $80,000 would give any benefit at all” since there is no recent data to support the formula.  Conary stressed that clean water is important to the township and officials will look at any and all options for improvement.

Kirkland further inquired, “If a million dollars is too much to spend on renovations of the Barnard House, what price would be acceptable?”  According to Conary, “we are looking at $750,000-$800,000 total cost…we could borrow that today at 2% and have a monthly payment totaling around $46,000 a year,” roughly the same amount currently budgeted to maintain the historic structure.

Several residents asked about the sale of the current township building and if those proceeds would be used toward the restoration of the Barnard House?  Conary explained the money would go into the general fund where it could be used to pay down the loan; it could also be applied to the entire amount to prepay the loan, or, depending on the needs of the community, it could be earmarked for something else –“a decision the Board of Supervisors has to make at the time.”

Conary concluded the discussion by reminding everyone that the township “still owns the Barnard House at the end of the day,” but assured residents, “we will not spend a million dollars” for its restoration.

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