HARWICH — It was clear Monday night that some town officials are still concerned with the cost of the Saquatucket Harbor landside development project. The town is expected to seek bids on the project this week.
Harbormaster John Rendon provided selectmen with the latest estimate from Brown Lindquist Fenuccio & Raber, Architects, the firm that did the design for the harbor improvements.
“I know there are questions relative to the cost of the project,” Rendon said.
Town meeting and voters in the ballot box approved $3 million for the project, which will include a boardwalk along the bulkhead, a new harbormaster and natural resource department office, a snack shack, ticket and artisan shacks, green space and a new septic system. On the Downey property along Route 28 there will be a new harbor department workshop, parking and landscaping, including access to the green space. The total estimated cost is $3.6 million.
Rendon has been working closely with department heads and committees and last week the project received a conditional approval from the conservation commission, with the understanding there would be slight adjustments on the distance between the Andrew's River pipe and altered wetlands. The commission also approved a variance for the walking bridge providing access to the main lot. Presentations to the planning board and board of health were scheduled for Tuesday night.
Rendon said the plan is to place the project out to bid on Wednesday. He said there are several grants available that could reduce costs to taxpayers.
The town has an application before the state Seaport Economic Council seeking $1 million to assist with this project. Massachusetts Coastal Zone Management provided a $187,500 grant to design coastal resiliency into the project. Saquatucket Harbor Development Committee Chairman Matt Hart also filed a grant application for $250,000 to assist with Americans with Disability Act design adjustments being incorporated into the project.
Town officials were excited about the potential for getting another grant from the Seaport Economic Council based on the visit to the harbor last week by Lt. Gov. Karen Polito, who chairs the council (see related story, page 3).
Harwich has received a commitment from the council for a $1 million grant for the waterside dock renovations. Rendon said on Monday night he hoped to have an answer on the $1 million landside project grant in August, but has been notified a decision will be moved back to January because the town has yet to use the $1 million dock grant.
Board of Selectmen Chairman Michael MacAskill said he was surprised to see the April 18 estimate come in at $3.6 million after the initial $5.2 million estimate based on the design provided by the architectural firm. The project was reduced in scope and proponents said the latest version retains the components residents said they wanted.
MacAskill focused on the snack shack proposal, noting an increase in price for the 500-square-foot building from $172,000 to $320,000. The cost is based on $469 per square foot. MacAskill said he could not stomach the taxpayers paying that much. Other per square-foot costs have increased as well, he said.
“The taxpayers have approved $3 million and I hope we stay there,” MacAskill said.
The plan is to seek three separate bids so adjustments could be made, if necessary, Rendon said. All the buildings and the boardwalk would be in one bid, the site work would be a second bid and the septic system the third bid. He said the bids were staggered to assist in getting a good price so the general contractor does not add a percentage.
Rendon said town meeting was clear that the project is for $3 million, and that's all that will be asked from taxpayers. But he added there are a lot of aspects of the plan residents want to see. Using the snack shack as an example, he said the project will draw “our community to Saquatucket Harbor.”
“I'm concerned with the coverage. It's a 22 percent increase,” Selectman Larry Ballantine said. “Everyone wants the project, but we can't continue to step the price up. I want to see it happen, but it looks tough.”
Selectman Julie Kavanagh said the meeting with Polito was very positive. She expressed confidence that additional grant money would be provided for the project, which appeals to a “whole lot of people.”
Town Administrator Christopher Clark said he thought the $600,000 differential could be found. There was talk of providing less landscaping and having town staff do some of the work. “Lets see what the bid climate is,” Clark said.
Rendon also pointed out $330,000, 10 percent of the estimated cost, is a contingency. Hart noted the success Rendon has had in coming in under bid on the Wychmere and Allen harbors renovation projects.
Resident Hugh Drummond said he would like to see the project approved, but he is appalled by the $320,000 snack shack. “We shouldn't be in the restaurant business,” Drummond said.
All eyes will be on the bids when they are submitted at the end of the month.