Schenectady

Schenectady sidewalk program hits the skids — again

City wants to alter contract
Deteriorating sidewalks on DeCamp Avenue and Union Street in Schenectady Wednesday
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Deteriorating sidewalks on DeCamp Avenue and Union Street in Schenectady Wednesday

Categories: News, Schenectady County

SCHENECTADY — The city’s sidewalk program has hit a rough patch and work has been delayed on DeCamp Avenue.

Work to replace the sidewalk was scheduled to begin this spring.

But it’s been stalled after city officials told the contractor they may be considering additional options in an effort to drive down costs.

Now $250,000 is proving to be a sticking point.

The city awarded Peter Luizzi & Bros the $1.75 million bid in September for a broader paving project encompassing a dozen or so city streets.

DeCamp Avenue was poised to be repaved and its sidewalk replaced at the same time.

But removing the street from the package would reduce the amount of curb and sidewalk needed.

As a result, Peter Luizzi & Bros wants to renegotiate the remaining costs, factoring in the complexity of the remaining work using a state formula.

“The increase for these two items could result in an increase in the total item costs of approximately $250,000,” said city Engineer Chris Wallin. “However, the net impact to the contract would still be negative with the reduction.”

City Council’s Finance Committee floated the idea of rebidding the sidewalk portion on March 23, but did not take action to rebid or revoke the award.

But they did signal to Wallin that the city should explore additional options.  

Now officials are trying to determine how to move forward.

SPARKS FLY

Options could be as simple as absorbing the $250,000.

Other lawmakers are calling for a comprehensive review of the sidewalk-replacement program before making a decision.

The City’s Finance Committee hotly debated the issue on Monday, sparring over procedural issues, transparency and whether Wallin had the authority to discuss renegotiating bulk material purchases with contractors.

“This whole thing is completely mismanaged and it’s ridiculous,” said Finance Committee Chairman John Polimeni, who pointed at cost overruns on Ardsley Road, the first street to participate in the program.

Wallin shot back: “I find your language completely offensive to me and I think you’re completely out of line.”

Wallin does have the authority to negotiate materials, according to contract language.

He defended his handling of the program, contending he’s acting on directives issued by City Council.

Peter Luizzi & Bros. didn’t return a call seeking comment.

ROCKY ROAD

The pilot program approved by lawmakers last spring allows homeowners to petition the city to create special assessment districts.

The city fronts the cost of the work, and homeowners are billed over a 10- or 15-year timeline.

DeCamp Avenue constitutes $486,412 of the broader paving project, about a third of which will be borne by homeowners.

Unlike Ardsley Road, DeCamp was originally slated to be paved at the same time.

Wallin said he wanted to compare costs between the two approaches, which would guide the process.

But the rollout on Ardsley Road was rocky:

Homeowners were stuck with bills double the estimated costs because of unexpected costs with backfill and tree removal.

The original bid came in at $179,435, but final costs drifted to $238,194.

Residents complained they were kept in the dark, and the City Council ultimately allocated approximately $37,000 from the $1 million set aside in last year’s capital budget to offset the increases.

In doing so, the city’s share leaped from $63,000 to $159,192.

Polimeni and Councilman Ed Kosiur want to take the same approach with DeCamp.

Kosiur proposed capping costs to residents at $2,700 per 40 linear feet of sidewalk, which is line with original cost estimates. 


The city would absorb the overruns.

That would reduce costs from $83.55 per square linear foot to $67.50.

City Council President John Mootooveren called for a more careful approach, weighing costs and gleaning input from homeowners.

“I think we need to analyze and get everything in order before we proceed,” Mootooveren said. “We cannot continue like this.”

Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo said the program has been “half-baked” from the beginning, owing to the lack of a procedural timeline and reverter clause giving homeowners the option of dropping out.

“I do not think we should be moving forward with this project at this time,” Perazzo said.

Councilwoman Marion Porterfield said the legislation was rushed.

“Had we taken the time to look and really dive into those documents, because I don’t think that was done, frankly, this would have been something that we would have discovered and had more discussion about,” Porterfield said.

No action was taken and lawmakers will revisit on May 18.

MAYOR DEFENDS

Funds have already been committed to the project, and the City Council’s decision to award the bid is in effect unless they take further action.

Asked on Monday if the city could pull out, City Corporation Counsel Andrew Koldin told lawmakers: “It would not be in the city’s interest.”

As the delay drags out, Wallin said, he’s been in contact with several homeowners and offered to fill potholes if needed.

The city needs to send out a letter that clearly communicates pricing for homeowners, the project’s timeline and giving homeowners the decision to opt out, said DeCamp Avenue resident Laurie Bacheldor.

“We look forward to receiving that communication,” Bacheldor said. “If the sidewalk initiative doesn’t move forward, at least pave the street.”

Mayor Gary McCarthy acknowledged the rough rollout, but defended the program and reiterated that the early cost estimates neighborhood leaders used to drum up support were only estimates, and that city-facilitated work will likely still be cheaper than if homeowners went at it alone.

Costs are coming in higher for all construction projects, he said, which is a reflection of broader trends in the market.

McCarthy advised lawmakers to find a happy medium between a cost that works for the homeowners and city.

“This has been more complicated than anybody thought initially,” McCarthy said.

Polimeni, the program’s architect, said the city owes it to the residents to deliver on its promises.

“Residents of DeCamp were made certain assurances,” he said. “None of those were upheld.”

Perazzo lamented the rancorous debate.

“I want nothing to do with the fingerpointing and public lashing of what happened during this meeting,” Perazzo said. “It is indefensible.” 

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