By Ed Fincher
The contractor working on the Lewis Street repaving project in downtown Pagosa Springs has promised to be done by the end of October, according to Pagosa Springs Town Manager David Mitchem.
This promise comes despite a number of unexpected delays in the project to date.
In an Aug. 23 interview, two weeks before school started, Archuleta School District Superintendent Mark DeVoti said, “I have talked with the town and they know when school starts. They have known since before we started this project, and they have committed to the street being ready. I believe in them and I trust them. That’s their job and I count on people to do their job.”
As it turned out, the promise was kept, at least in terms of finishing the section between 3rd and 4th streets before the first day of school … but just barely.
“Third Street is not paved yet,” Mitchem said in an interview on Sept. 5, which should have been the second day of school (school was cancelled that day because of a police standoff with an armed motorist), “but the busses can get through there.”
At an Aug. 21 town planning commission meeting at which Wal-Mart’s major design review application was approved (that decision has since been appealed and will be brought before town council Oct. 2; see related story), Town Planner James Dickhoff pointed to the Lewis Street project as an example of what happens when local contractors are used.
“Lewis Street is a project that the town council determined we were going to give preference to local contractors,” Dickhoff said, “but in doing so it literally extended that project to be three times longer than if we had an outside contractor large enough to do it in a short amount of time. So there are concessions for hiring local contractors. The town has worked through it, but we do get some heat over it. We get heat over Lewis Street taking a year and a half.”
Dickhoff reiterated several times during his presentation that the Lewis Street project has taken three times longer than initially planned.
Mitchem denied the project was that far behind schedule. “It is behind schedule, actually,” admitted Mitchem, but then claimed it was probably only a couple of weeks behind.
“We have a preference for local vendors,” Mitchem said, “and we think that’s important. Does it cause delays sometimes? Yeah, it does. With a larger vendor, they could have had it done last year. They could have just come in and, with large volumes of materials and men and women, they could have had it done.”
“We ran into something very similar with Honeywell,” DeVoti explained. “When we looked at Honeywell to come in and do performance-contracting with us, we looked at it in the same way we did when we looked at the bond: Let’s take a portion of this community and put them back to work. What we found out is if you want to get things done in time, you can’t do that.
“Frankly, we would rather have local people do the work, because it puts back into our economy, but when it comes down to reality, and we have to have something done in a certain amount of time, you’re going to have to bring in some of the big guns that do this.”
DeVoti explained that it was the same situation with the elementary school roof. When the district put the job out for bids, no local bidder was able to step forward, and they finally had to hire Superior Roofing from the Front Range and John Hesslink from Division 7 Design of Grand Junction.
“When these guys combine to do a school roof, you don’t have to worry about it.” Despite a lot of initial hand-wringing, DeVoti said the project was done three weeks before school started.
Dickhoff said, “Some of our contractors just are not large enough to handle the aggressive construction schedules of many large projects. It’s not isolated to Wal-Mart, by any means. I have talked to a lot of local contractors, and have suggested many things to them of how to be more competitive.”
Mitchem, however, pointed to three other issues that he claimed were more important contributing factors in the delay of the Lewis Street re-paving project.
The biggest delay occurred before the project ever got off the ground, when Wells Fargo Bank won the competitive bid to provide the financing for the project, but didn’t follow through. Mitchem has no idea why Wells Fargo wouldn’t send the money, even after the town gave the bank a hard deadline to do so, but the decision was then made to get the financing from another bank.
“That cost us a construction season,” Mitchem claimed.
Secondly, “The utility companies at the last minute decided they wanted to replace their utility lines that are in the street,” Mitchem explained, “so we had to delay the work on Second Street. That is completed now and they are making sure that the compacting of the sub-base is complete and in good shape before they lay the pavement.”
Despite the delay, Mitchem expressed gratitude towards the utility companies for doing their work now instead of waiting until the pavement was down, then tearing it up again later.
Two weeks before school started DeVoti said, “I have been waiting to smell fresh pavement every morning, and I came in Monday and it looked beautiful. I said, ‘Oh, they’re going to pave it today!’ but then I saw a backhoe come in and start digging holes again at the end of the street, and I said, ‘Oh, no!’”
Another delay in the project was a last minute decision to re-engineer the drainage system on the south side of Lewis Street near the intersection with 2nd Street.
“There is some pooling of water in a couple of places,” Mitchem said, “and we wanted to make sure we took the best opportunity to get that drainage squared away.”
Mitchem finished by saying, “We are getting a quality product. We are pleased. Is it a bit frustrating that it hasn’t gone as timely as we had hoped? Sure, but, you know what, I am willing to take on a little frustration in order to have a local contractor.”
“They have done beautiful things with the sidewalks,” DeVoti admitted. “They laid geothermal everywhere so we’re not going to have slips. They ripped out this staircase,” DeVoti pointed to a staircase behind the district office building, “and put in new geothermal. There never was any, and unless a custodian could de-ice it twice a day, it was a lousy spot with only one railing. I am thrilled with the work they have been doing. They have been working their tails off.”