CHATHAM – Selectmen met for an hour in executive session Monday to discuss the fish pier observation deck project, which has missed numerous completion deadlines, the latest of which was Oct. 16.
The board is “undertaking all appropriate steps” regarding the project with staff and town counsel, Selectmen Chair Shareen Davis said. She declined to be more specific.
“We're keenly aware of where we're at with this project, the public dissent, our contract deadlines, our contract obligations,” she said.
A new deadline for completion of the structure had yet to be set as of Tuesday. Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson said town officials were scheduled to meet with the contractor Thursday, and a new deadline was likely to come out of that session.
Although months behind schedule, the project remains within the budget, said Town Manager Jill Goldsmith. Although the original contract with Sciaba Construction was for $1.4 million, change orders approved requested by the town, involving the fuel system, raised the final cost to $1.6 million. To date the town has paid the contractor $1.2 million; 5 percent, or $67,522, will be held back pending approval of final construction.
Considerable progress has been made in the past few weeks, said Duncanson. Decking along the east side of the deck has been completed and construction of the railing system has began. Temporary railings have been installed along the east face for worker safety. The post-and-beam substructure along the north side is nearly complete, and decking will soon be extended there.
“They are making progress,” Duncanson said. Two sets of stairs and a small elevator have yet to be installed.
The project had quite a few challenges, Goldsmith said, including having to work around the active fish pier offloading operation. Disagreement over the exact start date of the project, as well as weather delays, contributed to delays.
She defended the awarding of the contract to Sciaba, saying that although the company's bid was $250,000 lower than the cost estimate, the town's consulting engineer investigated and confirmed that the firm would be able to complete the project within the bid price. Knowing the potential issues involved, Sciaba was given the opportunity to withdraw its bid but declined to do so, she said. Contract documents used for the project are the same as those used for other town projects, including renovations to Old Mill Boatyard, Goldsmith said, and are “strong,” with adequate protections for the town. Future contract language will be strengthened to reflect the issues experienced during the fish pier deck project.
Town staff involvement in the project has been “pretty hefty,” she added, and Owners Project Manager Rick Pomroy was brought in to help sort out disputes between the town and the contractor.
Goldsmith said the town will not accept the completed project until it a final punch list has been completed and an engineer signs off on it.
Pomroy said the quality of construction thus far is good and follows the specifications in the contract. A lot of time has been spent trying to move the work forward, with the contractor often providing only a few people at the work site at a time. According to an Oct. 18 memo to selectmen from Goldsmith and Duncanson, Sciaba “completely underestimated the time it would take to complete this project with available manpower while working around existing [fish pier] operations. For whatever reason(s), the contractor missed an excellent opportunity to complete most of the work before the fishing season began.”
Some of the slowness is justified, Pomroy said. The interface between the steel structure and the wooden deck necessitates a deliberate pace of construction, he said.
“They're being very meticulous,” Pomroy said, “and it's taking time.” The contractor has also had to work in “deplorable” conditions under close scrutiny by the public because the work site is so open, he said.
Resident Elaine Gibbs questioned Sciaba's qualifications to do the work and the quality of the work thus far, alleging that the wood used on the installed railings was of inferior quality.
“The railing is totally inadequate and unsafe for crowds of people who are going to be pushing on those railings to see seals and fishing boats,” she said, urging officials to require that the railings be removed and done over. Pomroy said the railing system, like the rest of the deck, has yet to be completed and accepted by the town; while obvious issues are being addressed in a timely manner, it is premature to criticize the work before it is completed.
Safety is important, Goldsmith said. “We've all seen reports where decks have failed. That absolutely is a concern of ours,” she said. Concerns raised about the adequacy of the brackets and columns supporting the free-standing deck are being addressed and auxiliary brackets may be installed.