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Wolfeboro Town Hall repair bidding process criticized


July 19, 2012
WOLFEBORO — The repair and renovation of Brewster Memorial Hall, a Main Street landmark visible from distant points, continues to draw attention. Whether positive or negative, it inspires passion, and the July 11 meeting of Wolfeboro Board of Selectmen was no exception.

A former proponent of an alternate site for town hall and a longstanding critic of the incremental repair of the building took the opportunity during both the opening and closing public comment periods of the July 11 Wolfeboro Board of Selectmen's meeting to question the bidding process.

That contrasted with a request from the NH Preservation Alliance (NHPA) to showcase the venerable building, which has earned a spot on its Seven to Save list, with a ticketed tour on Aug. 22, from 4 to 6 p.m.

Field Service Representative Maggie Stier said the tour would be followed by a talk with a preservationist and an architect on the significance of the building and the benefits of its preservation. Proceeds would be shared with the host location.

Citizen's Bank has selected the Alliance for inclusion in its "Champions in Action" program, which includes grant support and media exposure on WMUR. The board gave its approval for the Aug. 22 event.

It was the second time in as many meetings that resident Bob Lemaire took to the microphone to state his irritation at what he perceives as an improper process and less than full disclosure. "I have to connect the dots…I'm not getting information," said Lemaire. " I could be more accurate if I could get more information. [Town Manager] Dave Owen has my email. He could drop me a line."

He accused the selectmen of "shortchanging" the taxpayers and "abdicating [their] responsibility" and said he talked to a local contractor who said he was unable to bid on the asbestos abatement contract.

"Why is the town ignoring the procurement policy?" asked Lemaire.

Owen answered, as he did at the previous meeting, that he made the decision on the asbestos contract, as is his legal responsibility. Chairman Linda Murray was notified of the contract and passed that information to the board. As Lemaire pointed out, the contract is based on quotes Owen collected in 2007. Five years later, the cost, originally $14,900, is $21,000.

Murray noted that the price of scrap metal has gone down, thus affecting the cost of the section of the project involving the demolition and offsite disposal of boilers.

In a conversation with Owen the following day, this reporter learned that the asbestos abatement process is well underway. When asked why he declined to collect quotes for the job a second time, Owen answered, "We needed to get started and get this job done." He explained that he negotiated a price with the original lowest bidder to meet today's conditions, as is his responsibility as Town Manager and as is customary.

The original quotes were part of the anticipated larger renovation project that involved housing the staff off site while work was done. Since that was not approved, today's project is taking place nights and weekends to accommodate the various departments' hours of operation. That adds to the labor cost.

As for availability of information, Owen said that all that is on file has been shared with Lemaire in response to his requests and added, "I can't give him information that doesn't exist."

During the meeting, Murray reiterated firmly, "At no time have we waived the procurement policy. We asked Dave Owen to seek bids. The asbestos contract he awarded had three quotes. At no time have we waivered."

"Labor costs have dropped," countered Lemaire.

"Let me be very clear," responded Murray, " The board is following the policy."

"I wish Mr. Lemaire wouldn't jump to conclusions," said Owen. "In two weeks it [remaining sections of the project] will be on the agenda, and we will give an update. We are adhering to the proper process."

Responding to a charge from Lemaire that a certain local contractor had a "pleasant chat with Owen" but was not able to compete on the asbestos contract, Owen verified that conversation and said that the contractor in question, Paul Kimball, is presently engaged in two other town projects. Public notices of the town's invitation to bid on the demolition of the house on 265 South Main have been sent out, providing another opportunity.

"If the policy is not followed, the contracts will be null and void," warned Lemaire.

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