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City Beat: Council approves sidewalk, sewer improvements

Bidding interest is low among busy contractors

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Springfield City Council approved two infrastructure projects at its meeting Sept. 18 after both measures raised scrutiny from council members during the bills’ public hearings due to a lack of bidding interest by contractors.

A project to make accessibility improvements to intersections along Sunshine Street, Battlefield Road and National Avenue brought in two bids, and council approved the low bid from KCI Construction Co., which has an office in Springfield.

KCI submitted the lower of the two bids at $615,000, compared with $780,000 from Minnesota-based Ti-Zack Concrete Inc. But both bids are well above the city engineer’s estimate of $438,000 for the project. An explanation of the council bill recommending acceptance of the low bid was submitted to council by Martin Gugel, assistant director of Public Works for the city, and noted that although it was $177,000 above the engineer’s opinion of probable construction costs, it was within the previously approved budget for the project.

Another project that got the go-ahead from council Sept. 18 will provide open-cut repairs to areas of the city’s sanitary sewer system. Only one bid, from Rosetta Construction LLC, was received for that project, but that bid came in at $3.8 million, under the engineer’s estimate of $4 million.

For the sidewalk project, the price landing above estimate was credited to the multiple-site nature of the work.

“Public Works believes the small quantities of concrete at 19 different locations likely drove up the unit cost of this project,” the explanation of the bill stated. It noted the concrete sidewalk and Americans with Disabilities Act-approved ramp costs were consistent between the two bidders.

The report added, “Rebidding the project may result in delaying a portion of the project to the next construction season and would potentially not result in any cost savings.”

The project will bring crossings up to ADA standards on Sunshine Street from Grant to Fremont avenues, on Battlefield Road from Golden Avenue to the Battlefield Mall entrance and on National Avenue from Turner to Cherokee streets. In addition to sidewalk and ramp improvements at 19 intersections, the project includes ADA upgrades to pedestrian push buttons.

Council voted 8-1 in favor of accepting the bid, with Derek Lee opposing.

At the Sept. 5 council meeting, Paula Brookshire, principal transportation engineer for the city, speculated about why the city’s estimate was low, noting construction costs are on the rise due to inflation, and the city is using historic bids as the basis for its estimates.

“We’re just trying to catch up with that, and sometimes we haven’t quite figured that out,” she said.

She added that general contractors are very busy right now, something that seems to be due to an influx of federal and state funding for projects.

“Contractors can be choosy about what they bid on right now because there’s a lot of work out there, and we also know that the availability of material impacts prices sometimes,” she said.

At the time, Lee noted that the bid was overestimated by roughly 30%.

“It’s really off,” he said. “Was there any consideration of rebidding it or waiting a little while? That maybe it’s a timing issue?”

Brookshire said that was considered, but since the bids were similar, the cost was felt to be appropriate for the project.

Lee also asked if there was a city policy that would trigger an automatic rebidding process for bids that come in over estimates.

“I’m assuming there’s not, if we’re at 29% and we’re not doing that,” he said.

Public Works Director Dan Smith said that was a judgment call.

“If you look at the market today, it would have been hard to develop a policy, say, five years ago from the things that we’re seeing today,” he said.

The sewer project is being paid for through the city’s Department of Environmental Services Clean Water Enterprise fund, which is funded through sewer use fees, with an appropriation of $4.5 million to cover the cost and a 20% contingency.

The project is part of a 2012 consent judgment with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources entered in Greene County Circuit Court to address the sewer system’s noncompliance with the Clean Water Act.

The bid was unanimously approved.

Councilmember Abe McGull noted the city has made considerable improvements to its sewer and water infrastructure.

“I would like to know the status of the improvements in terms of the consent decree. Have we reduced stormwater infusion into the sewer system? By how much – 10%, 20%? Are we on scale to continue to do well in terms of the consent decree?”

Errin Kemper, the city’s director of Environmental Services, said his office had just finalized its annual report to the state attorney general’s office and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

“In terms of compliance with our consent judgment – in terms of getting the projects in the ground that we committed to doing – we are on track and things are going really well,” he said.

He said the overflow control plan had reduced flow to the southwest wastewater treatment plant by about 20% in 2021, but he did not know how much the city had moved the needle on that goal in the last couple of years. However, he pointed out that downstream of the Dickerson Park Zoo, stormwater overflow into the sanitary sewer system was reduced by 48%.

Kemper agreed to provide a more detailed update at a future meeting.

Other action items

  • Electric service rates will increase in the next three years following council’s unanimous approval of stepped increases proposed by City Utilities of Springfield. Percentage increases will be roughly 4.8% in 2024, 4% in 2025 and 3.9% in 2026. Customers on the general power service rate are estimated to experience a cumulative increase of 14.4% after year three, according to CU’s explanation of the bill. Council also approved CU’s operating budget for fiscal 2024, which begins Oct. 1. Receipts for the fiscal year are estimated at $633 million and expenditures at $645 million, the same as fiscal 2023.
  • Council approved a pay increase for City Manager Jason Gage, bringing his compensation to $268,000 per year from its current level of $246,000.
  • Council unanimously approved a measure to expand Landmarks Board membership eligibility to include those employed full time as an architect, real estate agent or historian/architectural historian, in addition to the previously eligible resident, merchant or property owner of the Midtown, Walnut Street or Commercial Street historic districts. The move is intended to help fill vacancies on the nine-member board. At present, a seat reserved for a Commercial Street district representative position has been vacant for more than a year.
  • A $746,000 grant was accepted for the Springfield-Greene County Health Department for heating, ventilation and air conditioning improvements in its lab facility. The grant is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and county Health Director Katie Towns called it a winding down of coronavirus relief funds for the agency.
  • Council heard first reading of an ordinance to streamline voluntary annexation in the city. The measure would allow the city manager to initiate the process, skipping a formal council resolution that is not required by law. An annexation would still be required to go through the council petition process, City Attorney Rhonda Lewsader explained.

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