RUMFORD — Selectmen voted 3-2 on Thursday night to ask residents at the annual town meeting June 11 to approve a bond of up to $2.9 million to complete infrastructure and other improvements in the downtown area.

Board members Chris Brennick, John Pepin and Peter Chase voted in support of the article, which will appear on the warrant as Article 9, while Mark Belanger and Jim Windover opposed it.

Issues with the engineers’ design for the downtown project in Rumford resulted in the contractor, Sargent Corp., finding unexpected problems, such as excess rock and ledge, which led to a cost overrun.

The bond, which would carry an estimated interest rate of 3.5% over 30 years, is needed following cost overruns of the project, according to interim Town Manager Scott Cole.

“For the $2.9 million, everything gets done but the gas,” Cole said. “The entire project, as envisioned, including broadband, goes through. At that point, if it all goes through as proposed, we’re estimating total project cost at $8.6 million, of which, about $2.5 (million) to $3 million was outside money.”

He said the town has also hired another engineering firm for the remainder of the project. CES Engineers of Brewer will replace Mainland Development of Livermore Falls.

Cole said he walked The Island, the downtown business district, with the new engineers to observe conditions.

“There’s uncertainty with the project,” Cole said. “There’s uncertainty with some of the costs. There’s uncertainty about how to approach certain aspects of what’s been built. Our new people are working on the best way to approach that.”

The conclusion, Cole said, was that “perhaps the best thing at this time will be to not proceed with this project until we have a better understanding of what the best course of action is.”

At an April 8 meeting of the finance committee, member Richard Greene asked how the town ran into a cost overrun for the project in the downtown business district.

Cole, who began duties as interim town manager Jan. 9, said there was not enough specificity in the design of the project, and the contractor, Sargent Corp., found issues with the ground that were not expected, such as excess rock and ledge, but more problematic were underground vaults, which are extensions of basements that protruded under the sidewalk.

Engineers who wrote the bid did not include dealing with the vaults, which also had live services (electric and sometimes water and sewer). These issues led the contractor to ask for change orders, which document unanticipated conditions and tend to increase costs.

The project was further complicated when grant opportunities became available and the town talked about broadband and installing natural gas lines.

Cole said changing of town managers probably contributed, too.

“There were engineering errors that led to us going to a different engineering firm,” Selectman Peter Chase said.

Cole said $5.5 million has been spent on the project. He said some of the money was from grants, some was borrowed and “some involved the water district.”

“Sargent has been paid in full to this point, and most all the bills to vendors have been paid,” Cole said. “There is an engineering bill from Mainland Development that is being reviewed.”

Greene asked how much remained of the original bond passed two years ago and was told all of it has been spent.

Following a conversation with CES Engineering, Cole said Sargent is willing to wait for the outcome of Article 9 before proceeding with the project.

“There will be a meeting next week about a projected startup date of the project,” he said, adding that an estimated 25 percent of the project remains, with up to 10 weeks of work.

“They basically said if you get the thing approved, we’ll be back this year. We just don’t know when,” Cole said.

Regarding the financial impact of the bond, Cole said the fund balance closed at $3.7 million last June 30. “So the town, fiscally, is in good condition.”

The purpose of the infrastructure project is to replace water and sewer lines, add new concrete sidewalks and other improvements.

When the construction crews return to work, their focus will be on completing Canal and Lowell streets, finishing the sidewalks and adding binder pavement (a more-coarse mix) on downtown streets.

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