Pittsfield City Council OKs funds to bolster Clapp Park project

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PITTSFIELD — Improvements to Clapp Park are on track after councilors voted unanimously to approve emergency funds for the $826,125 project.

Jim McGrath, the city's parks and open space manager, said a second round of bids came in late last month. The sole bidder's price was $153,000 higher than the available funds for the project.

"Apologies," he told councilors. "This was not the position we wanted to be in."

The city has already lined up a $400,000 state grant and other funding sources to bring changes to the park, including installation of a splash pad, improvements to the playground baseball field and basketball court, and a new restroom facility.

He said the higher price tag is a phenomenon happening elsewhere in the state as well, and "there's some head-scratching" happening surrounding the reasons why.

He suspects that because park projects are plentiful, bidders are elevating their bids.

The council had to act now on the issue, he said, as the city will soon lose important state funds for the project.

"They do not offer extensions to these contracts," McGrath said.

Councilors peppered him with questions before ultimately approving the extra funds. They expressed frustration that the city came to be "against the wall" with this funding.

"These are things that frustrate me when we're doing these contracts," said Councilor At Large Melissa Mazzeo.

McGrath said he had every reason to believe he was "within striking distance" of the budgeted price.

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Deanna Ruffer, the city's director of community development, said these things happen from time to time.

"We can speculate forever, but this is the reality we sit in this year," she said.

But Mazzeo and Ward 4 Councilor Chris Connell said it happens more than once in a while that the city comes back asking for more money.

"We face it all the time," Connell said.

Once it became clear the price tag had increased, McGrath said he scaled the project back, noting changes to the basketball court, bathroom placement and a handicapped-accessible playground.

"We substantially reduced the project," he said, while staying within the concept agreed upon with funding partners.

Connell pressed McGrath to talk to the contractor about removing certain elements that the city can either buy itself or do in-house.

"We're willing to have those hard conversations with them about some of this," McGrath responded.

Ward 5 Councilor Donna Todd Rivers also urged McGrath to keep in mind the neighbors' desire to see the walking track repaired, the park's driveway fixed as well as the parking lot on West Street addressed.

McGrath responded by saying he would consider that for future phases of the project.

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


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