New Avon stage budget goes up $2 million
AVON — The council called a special meeting this week after learning that the cost of the town’s new stage could go up nearly $2 million.
“I just about dropped my phone when I heard,” said Mayor Rich Carroll.
Crews broke ground on the stage on Aug. 20. At that time, the council was under the impression from the project’s designer, Brian Judge, of VAg Inc. Architects and Planners, that the project would cost $1.9 million.
The stage is being constructed using a project delivery system known as a “fast track,” which allows a second phase to be drawn — and costs to be determined — as construction is happening on the project’s first phase. With time running out on the town’s self-imposed 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships deadline, council members felt a fast-track process would be best for the new stage.
It was a decision they would come to regret.
“It’s embarrassing,” said council member Jennie Fancher.
HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?
Council members Dave Dantas and Jake Wolf sat on the committee that helped plan the stage, along with Judge. Dantas and Wolf said they were aware costs could jump to $2.2 million from the $1.9 million that was originally budgeted for the stage. But how it got to a final budget of $3.8 million — which the council eventually agreed to Wednesday night — was a mystery to the town’s elected body.
“We sat on the back of the pump deck in July, and you told the public it was a $1.9 million-dollar stage,” Mayor Carroll told Judge. “It’s the same drawing, and the price doubled.”
Judge said he wasn’t privy to an owner contingency, amounting to $452,515, and other fees totaling $267,515. He also said he added $500,000 worth of optional upgrades, which the council was welcome to forgo, and the cost of materials had gone up in recent days.
That answer wasn’t satisfying to the council, which said Judge’s explanations still leave a large shortfall.
“We never heard (the project could cost) $2.7 million,” said Carroll. “And it came back at 3.5.”
Judge insisted the mistake is not his fault, taking a tone of what people at the meeting described as indignant, and threatened to charge the town more fees on the project after council members suggested he was at fault for the miscalculation.
“I’ll add a fee if I need to add a fee, if it’s being contemplated that it’s my fault the town is in the situation it’s in,” Judge said.
‘WHAT CHOICE DO WE HAVE NOW?’
The only council member to offer no comments at all on the matter was Matt Gennett.
Gennett was also one of two members to vote against the project on its original approval, but stayed conspicuously silent on Wednesday.
In the end, though, as Gennett opted to side with the council and accept the increase in price, he did offer one barely audible comment before confirming he was among the all in favor.
“What choice do we have now?” Gennett asked.
Gennett is the lone council member up for re-election in November. After seeing how he responded to the stage problem on Wednesday, a problem he voted against and said in private that he predicted may happen, he received unanimous praise from the rest of the council.
“It’s easy, especially with an election coming up, to try and make something of it,” Carroll said. “Because you voted no (on the stage and the way it was funded) before.”
“Matt Gennett is a good guy for this town,” Dave Dantas said after the meeting.
EVANS CHAFFEE CONSTRUCTION
Another candidate in the November election, Peter Buckley, questioned the relationship between the company building the stage — Evans Chaffee Construction Group Inc. — and the town.
Evans Chaffee owner Chris Evans is also a council member, but was not present at Wednesday’s meeting.
“It came down to R.A. Nelson and Evans Chaffee, and Evans Chaffee was cheaper,” Dantas said.
Buckley suggested it was possible that Evans, being on the council, knew it was a fast-track project and took advantage of the situation.
Not so, said members of town staff.
“R.A. Nelson’s bid was $100,000 higher than Evans Chaffee, but R.A. Nelson also had a percentage bid,” said town manager Virginia Egger. “That is not the case with Evans Chaffee. They offered the town fixed cost (for construction services).”
Had the town have selected RA Nelson, “They would have charged us a percentage increase in this situation,” said town attorney Eric Heil.
Earlier this year, the town paid independent investigator Scotty Krob $10,000 to look into Evans Chaffee’s work on other projects in Avon. Krob found no appearance of impropriety.
“The vision of impropriety was huge,” said Wolf. “But because he has a large invested concern in this community and what’s going on, he came to the table to fix the problem. Here we are today and who knows how much that has saved us in the long run.”
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