West Chester Borough Receives First Project Bids Under New Responsible Contractor Ordinance
This week Borough Council approved awarding a bid to ARC Roofing in the amount of $748,225 to replace the roof on Borough Hall which began leaking sometime last fall.
What exactly is included in this three-quarters-of-a-million-dollar project?
The base bid includes: Replacing the roof and the removal and replacement of nearly 1000 sq feet of wet insulation. The base bid plus alternate (which the Borough opted for) also includes fixing the skylights in the entryway.
Is that high? It seems high. That is a question that does not at this time have a great answer. When Borough Engineers were asked to estimate the cost of the project earlier this year they came back to the team with a figure of $425,000 for the base job, perhaps another $75,000 for the skylights. The actual figure, however, is more than 50 percent over estimate.
Why, exactly, became a matter of debate this week.
First, there are a few environmental factors at play that don’t make it a great time to undertake a major construction project. There is inflation, labor shortages, and pandemic-induced knots still working their way through the supply chain. At the same time, the sector is seeing increased demand created by government infrastructure projects. All of which tends to mean higher costs.
Then there is the estimate itself. “Roofing is especially hard to pin down. I’ve had estimates that are off by 50 percent, I’ve had bids that are within 1 percent,” Pennoni engineer Nathan Kline told Borough Council members on Tuesday.
Finally, there is the Borough’s new Responsible Contractor Ordinance which was approved last summer. Under the new directive, the Borough agreed to only work with contractors that among other things provide workers a “prevailing wage” and offer training to all skilled workers via an “apprentiship program.” Supporters of the change argued it protects the Borough from the actions of unscrupulous contractors while supporting the next generation of workers. Critics maintained it would limit the field of applicable contractors and ultimately cost taxpayers more money. (You can read the full text of the ordinance here.)
“There is going to be a cost to this and the cost to the taxpayer will go up, but it’s worth it due to the liability,” Council President Michael Stefano was quoted saying at the time. In the end, Borough Council decided to accept the risk, approving the measure 7-0.
This week, resident Eric Lorgus took to the podium to ask Borough Council if maybe that cost is too high.
“It was anticipated costs were going to rise because it was going to narrow the field of contractors,” he said, “but … [the costs are] going up by 50 percent. So I am asking you Council if you are willing to spend an extra potentially $200,000 or if it might be time to revisit the ordinance and see if it was too restrictive in terms of limiting too many bidders?”
The increase was noted but at this point, Borough Council felt the evidence was just not there.
“I share your concerns,” said Mr. Stefano. “I just don’t know if we can definitively say at this point, hey, if we didn’t have [the ordinance] we’d have a much lower bid.”
The majority of the new roof will be paid for using the Borough’s remaining American Rescue Plan funds. How exactly we will pay for the next major project remains to be seen.
Originally published, Mar. 17, 2023
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