Council questions change orders

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Change orders on two construction jobs dominated discussion at the City Council meeting Monday. The first was change order #2 for work on the City’s building occupied by the National Park Service as an office and artifacts storage facility. Change order the revised contract total to $682,675. When questioned by a member of the audience and Councilperson Rosemary Elie, Director of Community Affairs Randy LaCaze said that change orders were not unusual and were items requested by the park service.

They included such items as a walk-in freezer, electrical receptacles, cleaning the ceiling, walls and beams and cleaning and painting the south exterior of the building. The changes were recommended by the architect. LaCaze said the project was not a new one and had been on-going since last year. It is also revenue generating at $135,000 annually for 20 years since the park service will lease the building owned by the City. He said a two-week layover on the vote could have a negative impact.

In the Thursday, March 25, 2021, print edition

The change order was submitted by DSW Construction and work has been completed. Payment cannot be made until the council approves the change order. Elie, councilpersons Betty Sawyer-Smith and Chris Petite, voted to table the change order and Eddie Harrington and Dale Nielsen voted not to. City Attorney Alex Washington said the council could call a special meeting to approve the change order after the councilpersons tour the building and are satisfied with the change order. The longest discussion came over the third proposed change order for Phase 3 of the Street Rehabilitation project.

The original contract was let to Regional Construction for $499,719 in October of last year. The council approved previous change order No. 1 for $61,141 and change order No. 2 for $14,790 raising the total contract to $575,651. Both of those change orders were related to adding two streets in the Pan Am Subdivision. The new change order, No. 3, was for $126,975 pushing the revised contract price to$702,626. It was pointed out by a member of the audience that the third order raised the contract price to considerably more than the original contract price of $499,719.

Rosemary Washington Elie

Elie wanted to know if the contract could be rebid and was answered by City Attorney Alex Washington who said it had already been awarded to the lowest bidder. He said the City must continue with the project. Elie said they were putting more money there (Chinquapin and Monroe) when other streets also needed work. She wanted more time to research the change order.

Petite said that was a lot of money being spent on Chinquapin and Monroe drives and wondered if the money could be better spent in parts of the city in which the streets were older.

Betty Sawyer Smith

Sawyer-Smith said she understood there would be change orders on construction projects, but that over the years Regional Construction Co., “has always” gotten the bids but then came back with change orders on most of its jobs.

City engineer Nick Verret said he conferred with Mayor Ronnie Williams Jr. about change order #3 before asking that it be put on the agenda. He said change orders occur because of unforeseen site conditions that could not have been anticipated when bids were submitted. Change order #3 included finding unstable subgrade soil in isolated locations; finding Winn rock that was not discovered in soil borings during the design phase; finding deteriorated drainage structures; and discovering drainage structures that had to be lowered or replaced as the result of final grade lines that were established during construction for the roadside ditches.

Verret said that the contractor was not the one who originated the change orders. Instead, they were ordered by a certified construction inspector working for the City and supervised by Verret. When the issues are identified, Verret is contacted and they explore options. The changes are paid for at the contract unit price for each item with computations performed by the City’s construction inspector or the City engineer. Once the new items are established, the City engineer negotiates with the contractor to establish fair and reasonable unit prices. Verret reiterated that a majority of the work in the change order was completed after verbal authorization from Williams.

He said delaying the work while waiting for authorization from the council was not practical because it would delay completion of the work and would cause continued inconvenience to property owners such as cutting off access to their homes. Delaying decisions could also result in shutting down some work sites with the contractor moving equipment to other projects. The example he used was it could delay work on Pavie Street that is part of the rehabilitation project. He said some of the same issues could arise there causing more over runs. “The bottom line is we’re still going to have cost increases,” Verret said. A more important point is that failing to pay contractors for completed work could result in lawsuits. Verret offered to have councilpersons be more involved in the street progress. Williams said that ultimately, it would be the residents who would pay the price and be inconvenienced if the change order was not approved.

The words of the Mayor, Verret and councilpersons did nothing to persuade Elie and Sawyer-Smith who voted no on the motion. Harrington, Nielsen and Petite voted to approve it.

The council introduced the following ordinances:

•Approve memorandum of cooperative endeavor between the City and Red River Waterway Commission (RRWC) and Natchitoches Convention and Visitors Bureau to promote use of Red River for KingKay Fishing Tournament; RRWC will provide $40,000 to City and Convention Visitors Bureau to promote sporting events on Red River in Natchitoches Parish.

•Approve employment contract with special council Stag Liuzza LLC, Alvendia, Kelly and Demarest LLC, Spears & Spears LLC, Taylor Townsend attorney-at-law and Washington & Wells Law Firm to file and litigate civil action against opioid manufacturers and distributors at no cost to the City

•Amending ordinance to change zoning classification from B-2 to B-3 for 13 acres owned by Braxton Keyser LLC on La. Hwy. 494 for expansion of existing business for medical purposes.

During her report, Director of Finance Debbie Miley said there was a budget amendment of $200,000 transferred to the Parc Natchitoches fund. COVID-10 accounted for the loss of revenue at the park. Also, utility sales were down $1.2 million, also related to COVID-19, mainly because schools and Northwestern State closed for several months.

The $1.2 million the City received from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) helped offset some of the losses.