WINSLOW — It could take several weeks before a stalled police station construction project is restarted, and the final cost is still unknown.

Work began in July on the one-story addition to the town office, but the fire marshal halted work in early August because there was no permit for the project. After reviewing the permit application, the fire marshal required the town update the building to bring it into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Life Safety Code,

Town Manager Michael Heavener said Friday that the construction manager on the project — Peachey Builders — is working out some kinks in the project plans before the fire marshal give it a final review, and it could be late September before construction begins again.

By then, the project may cost $200,000 more than its original $638,000 price tag.

In the meantime, the people involved in the project — town officials and buildings professionals — have offered their accounts of what went wrong — a series of small errors resulting in delays and cost increases.

‘A pig in a poke’

When the town council approved the police station project, they agreed to a design-and-build arrangement with Peachey Builders.

Design and build is a new approach to construction projects, said Al Hodsdon, principal-in-charge at AE Hodsdon Engineers in Waterville. Hodsdon is a Fairfield resident and not involved in the Winslow project; however, he has been following the project.

Hodsdon said his 38-year-old company has provided engineered plans for town offices in Benton, Greenville, Jackman, Sidney and more. Although design-and-build construction is growing in popularity, he’s not in favor of it.

“I think it’s detrimental,” he said. “It’s not in the best interest of communities.”

In design-and-build construction, the owner hires a contractor before blueprints are drawn, Hodsdon said. In Winslow’s case, the town hired Peachey Builders with the understanding that the company would manage all stages of the project, including hiring an architect to draw the plans. Winslow and Peachey Builders agreed to a cost of $638,000, which was based on an initial drawing, called a floor plan.

The traditional way of doing municipal projects is to hire an architect or engineer before doing anything else, Hodsdon said. Once plans are drawn, they are used to get building permits. Then, after everything is in place, the town puts the project out for bid.

Hodsdon contends the traditional approach makes more sense than the alternative.

“If you hire a contractor before the plans are done, and agree on a price, you’re buying a pig in a poke,” he said. “I don’t think the town of Winslow has made a wise choice in the process they chose.”

Eric Conrad, communications director for Maine Municipal Association, said some towns have taken the design and build approach for school buildings, but the nonprofit organization hasn’t given an in-depth look into the practice.

Glenn Dumont, sales manager at Peachey Builders, said his company was one of four that Winslow contacted for the project. Two companies replied to the town’s request for qualifications and Peachey was awarded the contract.

Dumont said the town’s decision was not based on a bidding process.

“We were selected on criteria. We didn’t bid anything because the scope wasn’t established yet,” he said.

In April, Dumont presented the town council with three options for floor plans. The council chose the most modest plan — $638,00 — during two votes, in April and May.

Dumont said the initial estimates in design-and-build construction are rarely exact, but the company offers a guaranteed maximum price, which was the case for Winslow.

“We gave a guaranteed maximum price and there was a contingency there for unknowns, based on our scope of work, which did not include all the changes to the existing building,” he said.

Stop-work order

On Aug. 3, two separate entities put a stop to construction at the town office. First, Winslow Code Enforcement Officer Frank Stankevitz shut it down. Hours later, the fire marshal’s office issued its own order.

The project didn’t have a permit from the fire marshal’s office. Stankevitz had issued a town permit for the project, “but it was very strongly qualified,” he said.

According to the permit, Peachey Builders was granted permission to construct a foundation for the addition, but nothing else because the architect hadn’t completed the plans for the project.

“Need stamped plans approved by the State Fire Marshal’s Office,” the permit states. “At this time, I have NO PLANS!!!!”

When Stankevitz saw workers had started plumbing, he stopped the project.

Dumont said the company didn’t intentionally work without a permit. He believed the architect was working to get a permit from the fire marshal’s office.

“It was a simple mistake,” he said. “Our work just got a little ahead of the architect.”

Assistant State Fire Marshal Rich McCarthy said working without a permit is against the law, but no summonses were issued in this case.

“If there’s a project without a permit, we issue a warning card,” he said. “If they continue to do construction, then we could issue a summons, but as long as they stop, they have complied with our order.”

McCarthy said there is nothing to suggest anyone willfully disregarded the permitting process.

Devil in the details

Since the work stoppage, the price of the project has ballooned because the original estimate didn’t include required updates to the existing building.

When an older building undergoes renovation, the project also must include updates to comply with new building codes. Because the police station is attached to the town offices, the whole building needs to be updated, including a $68,000 fire suppression system.

The town’s project is not required to make the building comply completely with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which includes building-accessability requirements. The law states that updates can be capped at 20 percent of the project’s base cost, which could bring the total to more than $800,000.

Heavener said the fire-suppression system was discussed at several meetings during the evolution of the proposal. Everyone agreed the new construction and the basement of the town office would need fire sprinklers, but it wasn’t clear if the walls and ceilings between other parts of the building were rated as firewalls. Heavener said he was fairly confident they were, but the fire marshal disagreed.

Dumont said he believed the sprinklers should have been a forgone conclusion, and he offered the town a price estimate for the work during the planning phase.

Disabilities act compliance for the building, on the other hand, was a surprise, Heavener said.

Heavener acknowledged that at least one person brought the issue to his attention, but said the responsibility ultimately falls on Peachey Builders.

Dumont said he wasn’t aware of the disability act requirements because the law changed in March, but McCarthy said that’s not accurate.

“He is correct that the law changed March of 2012, but that was just going from an older version to a newer version,” McCarthy said. “It’s not a new law. It’s just a new version.”

What’s next?

It’s unclear which entity is on the hook for the cost increase. Dumont said the contract’s guaranteed maximum price only includes the original scope of the project. Heavener said it could go either way.

“I think that’s something we’re going to have to talk about. The council will have to consider and discuss that,” he said.

The stalled project will be a topic of discussion on Monday, Sept. 10, at the next town council meeting during an executive session with the town’s attorney. Heavener said he’s not sure if it will also be a topic for a public hearing.

“I don’t believe we’re going to have the information we’ll need from Peachey by then, but we may. So I think it’s all going to depend on how soon we get the numbers back from Peachey,” he said.

Councilor Ken Fletcher has expressed doubt about the project, and suggested he might favor restarting it from scratch.

Heavener said he’s not sure which way the council is leaning.

“I haven’t had any discussions with the council in that regard. When we meet at the next regular meeting in executive session we’ll be meeting with the town attorney to talk about the options,” he said.

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