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Train Station Bid Numbers Revealed

By Frank Parlato

How much will the train station cost? And who is going to use it?
Harvey Albond has questions about the bid process and the dual role of Wendel Engineers.

The Niagara Falls Reporter has learned the amount of the three bids for the construction of the train station project that were thrown out last week.

The bids were opened Sept. 25 by Wendel Engineer's Susan K. Sherwood, who is the City of Niagara Falls' designer and construction consultant for the International Railway Station and Intermodal Transportation Center on Whirlpool Ave.

The bids came in millions higher than what the city and Wendel had been expecting.

The low bidder was the 100-year-old Scrufari Construction Co., Inc., of Niagara Falls at $28,755,000.

Ciminelli Construction of Buffalo came in second at $29,150,000, about $400,000 higher than Scrufari.

The Pike Company of Rochester was the high bidder at $29,919,000.

Scrufari's low bid was almost $4 million higher than the $25 million Sherwood predicted the train station would cost.

Within days of receiving the bids, Sherwood decided the project should be rebid, telling the Reporter she believed the bid needed to be “tweaked” to come in lower.

Prior to receiving the now discarded bids, Sherwood said she “included significant contingencies to cover unforeseen conditions. For instance, we have assumed that we will find contaminated soils.”

Sherwood said the city used a 10 percent contingency and another 10 percent for construction allowances.

Some observers expressed surprise that Ciminelli did not win the bid given his track record in Niagara Falls. He may yet still be successful on the train station if he rebids.

Ciminelli built the courthouse, the Culinary Institute, the Conference Center, the Niagara Falls High School, and is building the Maid of the Mist storage docks and the Niagara Falls School District's capital improvement project.

Scrufari's president, Gary Sankes, said he is interested in trying to make the deal work with the city, something he was told the city was not interested in doing.

What caused the price to be higher than anticipated were unit prices for possible contaminated soil. There weren't quantities listed so the contingency had to be put in the bid.

“We don't know how much radiation is in the soil,” Sankes said, “if there is zero or a thousand yards. If they took all those numbers out we would have been in the $24 million range.

“I told Wendel that we would work with them on the price and bring it downward. If you take the contingency money out, we would be under their budget. We were told by their legal department they could not do that,” Sankes said.

Former Niagara Falls City Manager and Director of Planning and Development, Harvey Albond agreed the city probably could not renegotiate the bid with Scrufari.

“Generally speaking, a bid is a bid,” Albond said, “Usually when a municipality sends out bids, they reserve the right to reject any and all bids when they come in higher than the anticipated price.” The plan now, according to Sherwood, is to tweak the specifications and put it out to bid again.

“If we put it out to bid again, it could be better,” Sherwood said.

Meantime the original bid process took a great deal of time for all the bidders.

“It was big job. And it took a lot of time to put it together,” Sankes said. “I can't say I never saw a bid withdrawn before. I have been in it for 40 years and I have seen it happen before, (but) rarely.

“We spent over three weeks, our whole company,” Sankes said. “It was a hard job to do with all the per unit price items. Then they delayed the bid three or four times. It was difficult job to bid.

Sankes said he was uncertain if his company would participate in the rebidding process.

“Now they are going to tweak it,” Albond said. “That means they are not rebidding the original document, but there will be a new document. But now that everybody, including the low bidder, has revealed their positions and capabilities, the competitors will now know what they are capable of doing. Rebidding is just about always unfair to the low bidder.”

Wendel, however, will not suffer for any miscalculations. The bid terms were completed in April and Wendel billed the city $171,000 to prepare bids on terms they later declared faulty.

Wendel will bill the city for the new bid terms they will develop.

Funding for the train station is to be provided by a Federal TIGER 2 grant in the amount of $16.5 million, a federal highway grant of $3.4 million and a New York State Competitive rail bond for $2.5 million.

City taxpayers will invest an additional $3 million (on top of the $2 million already in the project) according to City Controller Maria Brown, for their share of the matching grants.

“The city's share is about $3.2 million. That will probably go up,” Senior Planner Thomas DeSantis told the Reporter.

The city will pay costs above $25 million, including change orders and be responsible for maintenance and operational costs to run a train station expected to have 65 riders a day. The station is designed to accommodate 300 passengers per day.

Sherwood said she expects the new bids to come in before the first of the year, with a construction start in the spring, and an opening by the end of 2015.

Sherwood, who serves as designer and project consultant, prompted an observation from Albond about the dual roles. Albond said, “There is an inherent conflict of interest when the engineer that does the design is also the construction consultant. How does the consultant find fault with the design? It is an inherent conflict.”



Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr. www.niagarafallsreporter.com

OCT 08, 2013