High bids stall work on West Side Riverway Park

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PITTSFIELD — Bids for a planned park on Dewey Avenue came in high and now the city is working to scale back the project's scope.

Jim McGrath, the city's park and open space program manager, told the Conservation Commission on Thursday that in order to bring the project within budget, new plans for the West Side Riverway Park will not include a pedestrian bridge over the river.

The project was originally estimated to cost $680,000, but he said the lowest bid came in at $1.4 million. Planners had hoped the bridge would allow residents of John Street to easily access the new park and encourage connectivity between Durant Park and the Riverway Park.

"We haven't lost the intent of the park, which is to really create a focused place for performance," McGrath told commissioners.

The city hopes the park, to be located along the West Branch of the Housatonic River, serves as a common backyard for a neighborhood plagued by violence, most recently with a fatal shooting on Sunday. Park features will still include a pavilion, green space and a canoe launch.

Plans for the project began more than a decade ago under former Mayor James Ruberto as a means to open up riverside space once obscured by abandoned, aging mill buildings. Since then, the city has worked to acquire and clear lots along the river, making a path for the park.

Work on the park was scheduled to start this summer, but now it must first go back out to bid after the city works with designers to alter plans. Grant stipulations require the project be completed by June 2020, McGrath told commissioners.

The commission also voted during the Thursday meeting to table a decision regarding a controversial solar project on Barker Road. The group delayed its vote so developers with Cypress Creek Renewables could provide more information about riverfront impacts of the large-scale solar project and alternative design possibilities as well as details about an intermittent stream within the proposed project area.

High bids

McGrath told commissioners that the planned pedestrian bridge in the West Side Riverway Park turned out to be more expensive than anticipated.

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"That was the single element that put us over the top," he said.

Still, it's not the first time this construction season that the city has been taken off guard by high bids. McGrath told The Eagle after the meeting that high bids are a growing problem.

"I think it's impacting a lot of projects," he said, citing work on the Mill Street Dam, Springside House and a roughly $673,000 project at Clapp Park.

He said the high bids could stem from a small pool of contractors, some of whom might be reluctant to take on municipal work.

In the future, McGrath said he might consider hiring an independent consultant to review estimates rather than giving sole estimating power to engineers and architects.

"There's a little bit of uncertainty," he said. "Everyone is sort of questioning the lay of the construction landscape."

So far, he said the city has been able to recover from the high bids, but it's important that the city have reliable estimates as it goes to bid on projects.

"Ultimately we only put out projects which we know we can attest to funds for," he said.

That's important both because legally the city must vouch for funds, he said, and because the city needs to have sound estimates for planning and budgeting purposes.

"We're trying to get a better handle on it," he said.

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.


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