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Mills River boots budget-busting ballfield bids

MILLS RIVER — Little Leaguers and other kids and adults will have to wait another year before they can play ball at the Mills River Town Park.


The Town Council last week booted bids for a baseball diamond that came in 50 percent higher than the projected cost and voted to rebid the job in the fall.
WGLA Engineering sent bid packages to six contractors and received three back — all more than $500,000, exceeding the budgeted number of $350,000, engineer G. Thomas “Tom” Jones III told the board.
He said the town board could authorize a formal bid. “Due to the bidding climate, I do not expect bids to come in below $600,000 based on the bids received,” he said.
“I don’t think any of the contractors were desperate to get work or really wanted to get the bid badly. I didn’t get a single question about the plans. Normally if they’re really interested” they will ask questions.
Councilman Richmond Meadows asked Jones why the bids were so much higher than the engineers’ projection.
“I don’t quite understand how you all missed it so far,” said. “That disappointed me. We need real good numbers when we ask for help and we’re paying for that. I’m desperate to see this thing go. I don’t know how we’re going to do it financially.”
Jones said the quality the town was demanding in the slope of the field and add-ons such as a fence between the basketball court and ballfield were factors that increased the cost.
“We’ve definitely done things that’s driving up the cost. It’s going to make it as good or better than any field in Henderson County” but at a higher price, Jones said. “We can definitely look at some changes to bring the cost down some.”
Meadows urged the board to move ahead.
“I think we’ve gotta stretch and think and try to get it done,” he said.
Jones said it’s possible the bids will be lower in the fall if contractors are hungrier for work. But he warned, “It won’t go to $350,000.”
“I’m not willing to spend $600,000 for a baseball field,” Councilman Wayne Carland said. “I’d rather wait it out” and see if the construction market changes.
“I personally feel it’s not going to go down,” Meadows said. “The contractors I’ve talked to in the last two weeks, they’re looking at 2-3 years now. These boys are turning things down. Most of them got 1-2 years (worth of work) in their pocket. I don’t see that (rebidding) is going to help us any. If we’re not going to do this, I’d be strongly in favor of reducing taxes. We’ve gotta keep moving forward as a town.”

Competitive bid would be next

The council voted 4-1 to rebid the project in November. Meadows voted no, saying he feared the project would fizzle out.
“I think we’re all going to be working for this,” Mayor Chae Davis responded. “It’s a pretty big deal to all of us. I don’t think it’s going to fall off.”
Tom Cooper, of Cooper Construction, said his firm was one of the bidders. He did not think the bid was higher than the company would have submitted before the current construction boom. Instead, the town may have projected the cost under $500,000 so it could solicit informal bids. Projects over $500,000 under state law have to be awarded based on competitive bids.
Asked whether the projection was low in order to stay under the $500,000 threshold, Wells said, “No, no, I don’t think so at all.”
An informal bid process is often better, Jones told the council, because the town can choose local contractors that it knows will do a good job.
The field will be laid out beyond the basketball court toward the Mills River, which borders the park.
“It’s sized for baseball and you can fence off a smaller area for softball,” Wells said. “It’ll be your typical baseball field, with an infield, outfield, bases, dugout and fence. Next time we bid it out, we’re going to have to assume it needs to be in the formal bid range.”
“Ideally it would need to be sod,” he said. Seeding grass is undesirable, he said, because no one wants to finish the baseball diamond and then wait for grass to grow. “My experience would be, yes, if they want it to be ready in a timely fashion for the spring you’d almost have to” require sod.

In a draft budget he prepared for this week's Town Council meeting, Wells projected the ballfield construction price at $650,000.
The town still has a donation of $100,000 it received several years ago from Flavor 1st and the total has grown to $115,000. That will offset the cost when the Town Council does award a contract.
“It’s going to be great asset for the town and hopefully we’ll get some reasonable bids next time around,” Wells said.