A $23.5 million contract for the construction of Harford County's new Emergency Operations Center near Bel Air was recently approved by the county's Board of Estimates, although the contract did not pass without some controversy.
"We're very pleased to finally bring this project to you," Ed Maley, senior project manager with the Department of Public Works, Capital Projects, told board members during their meeting in Bel Air Thursday.
The selected contractor, J. Vinton Schafer & Sons Inc. of Abingdon, submitted a total project bid of $28.6 million. The $23.5 million awarded last week covered a "base bid," and county public works officials acknowledged in a memo to Deborah Henderson, director of procurement for the county and a member of the Board of Estimates, that "the currently available funds are insufficient to award the entire bid award at this time."
The memo continued: "However, the bid documents provide for delayed award of bid items and allowances."
The County Council allocated $26 million toward the EOC project in the county's current capital budget, and Public Works officials say they expect the remaining funds would be allocated during the county's upcoming budget process for the 2014 fiscal year.
The budget won't receive final county council approval until sometime this June, however.
Board member and County Council President Billy Boniface cast the lone dissenting vote, noting the total bid awarded exceeds the council's allocation by more than $2 million.
The contract passed 5-1; Warren Hamilton, the county executive's citizen representative on the board, was absent. Hamilton is a former executive with the Schafer company.
'Cart before the horse'
Boniface briefly argued with Maley over the county's proposal to award the rest of the contract later, which Boniface said was "putting the cart before the horse."
"The way you've done this is absurd," he added.
Boniface stressed in a follow-up interview Monday that he supports the EOC project but is concerned more money had been committed than what the council had allocated.
He said a budget proposal from Harford County Executive David R. Craig, who also serves as chairman of the Board of Estimates, has not come before the county council yet. The council expects to see a budget by April 15, and has until June 15 to approve it. It must be enacted before July 1.
"They were requesting more than what they've been authorized to spend, and that's not right; that's why there's a budget process," Boniface said.
Robert Thomas, spokesman for the county government, wrote in an e-mail Tuesday the budget "will not be forwarded to" the council before April 1.
The $23.5 million contract approved last week would fund construction of a 65,000-square-foot building to replace the existing EOC in Hickory, which Harford emergency officials have stated is too small to meet their needs.
The center houses Harford County's 911 dispatch center, and also serves as a command center during major civil defense and weather incidents, such as last fall's Superstorm Sandy.
The remaining funds for the project would cover expenses such as telecommunications equipment, furniture and any other items needed to run the EOC.
Boniface said Monday there are "no guarantees" the council can provide the remaining $2.5 million to fulfill the entire contract approved last week.
"I support the project, but I don't support the way they're doing it," he said. "You should work within what you've been appropriated."
Maley said during the meeting, and in a follow-up interview Monday, that the contractor wants to proceed with construction as soon as possible.
He said warmer weather is preferable for the initial "earthwork" portion of construction because the soil is drier.
"They're anxious to go," Maley said during the meeting. "This is a perfect time of year to start digging."
Maley said Monday public works officials are planning to schedule a preconstruction meeting with the contractor, and work is expected to begin in April.
The new EOC will be built on the property the current center occupies off Route 543 (Ady Road), just north of Bel Air in the Hickory are.
Two existing buildings will be torn down to build a new communications center.
The current communications center will remain open during construction, and emergency personnel will move into the new building when it is completed.
The former comminations center will then be torn down and a new HAZMAT center will be built, funded through a separate contract.
The Schafer firm's total bid of $28.6 million was the lowest of five bids for the project. The highest, offered by Hess Construction of Gaithersburg, was for $31.4 million, according to bid documents.