After concerns with contract, Lawrence City Commission will take bids for project to repair Bowersock Dam

photo by: Nick Gerik

The Kansas River rushes over the dam near downtown Lawrence, Thursday afternoon, May 9, 2019.

City leaders have decided not to move forward with a contract to make repairs on the Bowersock Dam after the proposal came in around $400,000 more than anticipated.

As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission voted 4-1, with Mayor Brad Finkeldei opposed, to authorize city staff to advertise a request for proposals for engineering services for the design of the dam rehabilitation. The city previously negotiated a contract with J.F. Brennan Company Inc. and Barr Engineering Co. for the project, but the companies were projecting that it would cost the city $1.9 million instead of the $1.5 million that the city anticipated.

In December, the commission authorized the use of the design-build method for the design and construction of the repairs, an alternative to the traditional method of calling for sealed bids. Under the design-build method, instead of opening the project for bids, the city selects a designer and contractor team at the beginning of the process based on qualifications and best value, and a price is set.

Municipal Services and Operations Director Dave Wagner told the commission that there was a continuing escalation of costs, partly because of the increasing scope of the project and partly because of the process. Wagner said that part of the city’s policy was to only use alternative methods such as design-build if it’s in the best interest of the city, and at this point he said it was not. Wagner said the city was not sure of the impact of competitive bidding, but that the city was certainly not in a competitive pricing situation now.

Apart from cost, Municipal Services and Operations Assistant Director Melinda Harger said that she had doubts about whether the project could be completed before spring’s wet weather, and that the contract terms had the city assuming more risks — and potentially additional costs — than it was comfortable with should rain or other issues impact the project. Harger said she was not confident the city would get a much lower bid if it were to bid the project, but that the city could get more favorable contract terms with fewer unknowns about what the maximum cost would be.

The dam repairs will include constructing a new concrete wall on the downstream face of the southern third of the dam and placing a new concrete cap on top of the existing apron.

Commissioners were not particularly enthusiastic about any of the options, which included moving forward with the contract, bidding a new contract or reducing the existing contract, but they generally agreed that bidding the project was the best course to take.

“While I think there is no best option, the first option is the least worst option that we have,” Commissioner Jennifer Ananda said.

Commissioner Lisa Larsen said she was not comfortable with the level of risk for the city and some of the other terms of the contract. Finkeldei said it was a question of risk and reward, and said if the city was able to get the project done on the original schedule, it could save the city money over the option to delay the project for bids.

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