RUMFORD — Selectmen unanimously voted Thursday night to appropriate $24,300 to expand the scope of the Congress Street Sidewalk Improvement Project to the whole downtown area.
But they didn’t arrive at that decision immediately. It took considerable discussion after businesswoman Jennifer Nichols presented the request.
Nichols and her husband, Brian, own and operate Brian’s Bistro, a popular restaurant on the downtown island at 25 Hartford St. They are also members of local economic development group, Envision Rumford, and Nichols is on the town Sidewalk Committee.
“As you are aware, our sidewalks are in horrible disrepair,” Nichols said.
She said the committee was seeking further investment in the current planning stage to have Main-Land Development Consultants Inc. of Livermore Falls survey all sidewalks on the island between the Androscoggin River and its canals, and not just along Congress Street.
Initially, the committee was going to have Rumford’s Public Works do the work. But now they want to put the project out to bid to hire an outside contractor “to do it right,” Nichols said.
She said Public Works Superintendent Andy Russell told her they are overextended due to extensive roadwork to repair damage from the big July 2 storm that put all their planned regular work on hold through the summer.
“I think this will save us money in the long run, as well, so that we’re not waiting for them to get to the project and that it’s done the right way from the get go,” Nichols said.
“We want to encourage businesses to come to ‘the island’ and we think that by having a welcoming and functional downtown area, that will help to encourage that.”
She said Main-Land’s proposed scope expansion would include all sidewalks on the island and design and coordination for a public bid process for construction.
“In addition to streetscape design, it will have a detailed bid spec for construction work, it will be overseen by engineers and we also have someone to hold accountable should something go wrong,” Nichols said.
“Again, the sooner we can fund this the better we can get this out to bid,” she said.
She said construction could start in spring 2015.
“We’re asking you to invest in our future,” she said. “It’s almost foolish not to have a larger vision. Continuing to put a bandage on this isn’t good for our future.”
When asked by Selectmen Chairman Greg Buccina about the original contract, Nichols said Main-Land’s original quote didn’t include creating specifications and putting the construction part out to bid.
“Let’s get it surveyed,” Nichols said. “Let’s look at this entire island as one. Once we do that, we can tailor the work from there.”
Buccina had Town Manager John Madigan refresh the board’s memory about the original contract of $41,900.
Madigan said voters approving the budget in June allocated $35,000 to the Sidewalk Fund. By the end of Rumford’s fiscal year on June 30, the fund had a balance of $140,929.25. Of that, the town has already committed $41,900 to the initial project of surveying Congress Street and its sidewalks.
Nichols then had Rick Dunton, Main-Land’s project manager, explain the new contract for the expanded scope. He said that depending on desired changes, that $41,900 would increase to between $47,300 to $50,300.
That would take care of having Main-Land oversee construction, and cover mapping and designing work.
Madigan explained that if the town had a plan, it could pursue grants with some local matching funds to complete the project.
“Our intent from the start was what can we do to improve Congress Street and get businesses here,” he said.
Tossing out street-scape redesign ideas, Madigan said a portion of Congress Street could be changed into a small park instead of remaining a through street.
Selectman Frank DiConzo said it would be great to survey the entire island if the town can afford it, but he remained adamant that he wants the town crew to do the construction and not an outside contractor.
Selectman Brad Adley said they should map the whole island, which has three streets. Madigan said a concept for what the area could look like can only come from baseline mapping.
After more discussion, Adley motioned to appropriate $24,300 from the sidewalk fund to complete further surveying of the entire island.
Once the board approved it, Adley said, “Poor planning makes for poor performance. This is where you spend your money.”