County postpones vote on new senior citizen center

October 09, 2012|By ANDREW SCHOTZ |
  • Wanda Barber of Hagerstown was one of several people holding signs and speaking in favor of a proposed Washington County senior citizen center during Tuesday's Washington County Board of Commissioners meeting.
Photo by Andrew Schotz

The Washington County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday postponed for two weeks a vote on a construction contract for a new Washington County senior citizen center at Hagerstown Community College because of unanswered questions about the project.

Foremost was how much money is available to spend. Public Works Director Joseph Kroboth III said it’s not clear whether the commissioners voted in the spring to direct $800,000 to the project only if state money wasn’t available or in addition to the state money.

That point was important Tuesday, as the commissioners learned that the project, as bid, could cost about $6.6 million.

Without the $800,000, the county would be nearly $800,000 short on the project, Kroboth said.

The commissioners’ meeting agenda included a possible vote on awarding a construction contract to low bidder Roy C. Kline Contractors LLC of Smithsburg. The company’s base bid was $5.96 million and its total bid, including allowances and a unit price schedule, was $6.38 million.

With architectural design and engineering, the project is estimated to cost $6.6 million — about what the county has available, counting the previous $800,000.

The commissioners decided in May that they could use $800,000 in savings from early payment of Airport Runway Improvement Bonds for the senior citizen project instead.

Kroboth said he proposed at the time that the money be moved to the senior citizen project unconditionally.

But Commissioner William B. McKinley said he thought the money would only be there if state funding didn’t materialize.

Kroboth said the commissioners’ exact decision from May needs to be researched and the question resolved.

The commissioners were divided on how to proceed.

McKinley and Commissioner Jeffrey A. Cline preferred waiting two weeks, so county officials can look into funding sources that Kroboth said are “emerging.”

“Just kill it. Start over,” Terry L. Baker, the president of the commissioners, proposed, voicing his concern about rising debt and a confusing process.

He said there’s still dissent in the community about where the senior center should be built. Each commissioner should be allowed to appoint one member to a task force to come up with a viable plan, Baker said.

Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham objected on different grounds. She said contingency costs could push the project as high as $7.5 million, but that hasn’t been explained well to the public.

Someone expressed “profound disappointment” in how the commissioners have handled the project, particularly the muddled picture of how much money will be spent, she said. “Well, that’s gonna stop,” she added.

The fifth commissioner, John F. Barr, excused himself from the discussion and stayed out of the room. His company, Ellsworth Electric, was a subcontractor in all eight submitted bids, including Roy C. Kline Contractors’.

This was the latest chapter in a project that has been delayed for years, for various reasons.

In an earlier round of bidding, all six bids were more than the county’s construction budget of $5.8 million.

The low bid in that first round, by Roy C. Kline Contractors, was $6.95 million, but the bid was rejected for failing to have a required federal form summarizing an affirmative action plan and hiring intentions, The Herald-Mail reported at the time.

The county cut the project back in scale and cost, from $8 million to $6.5 million, counting on the original $5.8 million budget plus the $800,000 in bond savings.

The current plan is for a one-story senior citizen center of about 19,000 square feet. An earlier plan was for a two-story building of about 27,000 square feet.

Construction is estimated to take 400 calendar days, according to a county memo.

Before the commissioners debated the issue on Tuesday, several people spoke up during a public comment period.

Alice Hersom, who lives on Leitersburg Pike with her daughter, said some of the conditions at the temporary senior center, at Girls Inc. in Hagerstown, aren’t good.

Wanda Barber of Hagerstown said she doesn’t understand the hold-up and urged the county to move ahead with the project.

Alfred Martin, a former finance director for the city of Hagerstown, said the cost of the project might seem high, but construction costs will only go up. Investment isn’t easy, but it’s important, he said.

Robin Wivell of St. James questioned why only Ellsworth Electric, Barr’s company, has been considered for electrical work.

Richard Gruber of Hagerstown spoke against the project. He said the cost is too high relative to the number of people who use the temporary senior center and the commissioners don’t have enough information to proceed.

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