PLATTSBURGH — Over-budget bids have presented another setback for the Webb Island Footbridge project, prompting Plattsburgh City School District to explore an additional funding option.
State Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) and Assemblyman D. Billy Jones (D-Chateaugay) have secured $400,000 and $50,000, respectively, and Clinton County plans to contribute $50,000 over the next 10 years for maintenance.
But the bids, opened July 23, came in above the planned price point of $450,000.
“There were only two bidders who responded, and their pricing was highly disparate,” Superintendent of Schools Jay Lebrun said.
“The lowest base-bid was $510,000.”
Lebrun explained that, on top of the general contractor’s bid, there must be an allowance for engineering design work.
Additionally, the base-bid figures that came in do not include room for “alternates,” items the district would consider incorporating if the budget allowed.
“There were four,” Lebrun said. “Two dealt with optional decking material — metal grating versus wooden planking —, one dealt with an optional guardrail system and one dealt with side-fencing options.”
The district is currently investigating whether the budget for the project can be supplemented by an annual capital outlay project.
“These projects were created by the (New York) State Education Department to allow school districts to accomplish lesser projects — up to $100,000 — annually, without the formality of a voter-approved capital project,” Lebrun said.
“The attraction of this strategy would be the ability to leverage building aid on that $100,000.”
According to the NYSED website, districts may receive reimbursement for capital outlay projects wholly funded through capital outlay which fall into one of three categories, including a project whose cost does not exceed $100,000.
“If we are able to utilize this funding stream, it would require that we separate the bridge reconstruction into two categories of work,” Lebrun said.
The city’s architecture/engineering firm, Watertown-based Bernier, Carr & Associates (BCA), has already discussed that possibility with the low bidder.
“It does not appear to be an issue,” Lebrun said, “though no decisions have yet been made about which specific work would be done through the capital outlay project.
“That specific detail is secondary to whether or not bridge work will even be allowed under such a project.”
Lebrun hopes to have more clarity on this question from both NYSED and BCA prior to the next board meeting.
INACTION BY CITY
Lebrun said neither he nor the Plattsburigh City Schools Board of Education is eager to see district resources expended on the project.
“We have made clear that the ownership and burden of repair for the footbridge should be the responsibility of the City of Plattsburgh.
“Only amidst inaction on the city’s part has the district decided to pursue this undertaking.”
The district has had no further discussions with the city about its ownership of the bridge, Lebrun said, nor does he expect any.
“It was made clear by Mayor (Colin) Read that the city has no interest in repairing the existing structure, and would instead prefer to build a new pedestrian bridge, or perhaps even a vehicular bridge.”
WISH THEM WELL
On Friday, Plattsburgh City Mayor Colin Read said the city told the district eight years ago that it is always willing to assist with the district’s interest in maintaining the bridge for its students and other users, even though the district owns the bridge and the land on both ends.
“The city has been consistent on this point since 2011.”
Read pointed to Press-Republican coverage of the board of education’s April 9 vote to adopt a resolution to move forward without the city to repair the bridge.
“Just as the Common Council recently deferred to the school district on their request for a school resource officer, the city again encourages the district to construct and maintain their bridge in a way that best suits their needs.”
Read said the city has not been included in any sort of discussions with the district on its chosen path of bridge maintenance since the spring.
“But we certainly wish them well in their plans.”
Additionally, Read continued, “the city stands ready to explore with the school district a long-term solution to deliver all their students safely to school, just as the school district surely stands by to assist the city in expanding the tax base, improving quality of life and lowering the tax rate for those on fixed income most vulnerable to rising costs.”
When the board of education decided to move forward on the bridge, Lebrun had said it was anticipated the bridge would be accessible in October.
Weeks later, at another board meeting, he reported that an inspection by BCA revealed no change in the bridge’s condition from one year prior.
“Obviously, we had hoped to be mobilizing for construction at this point,” he said this week, “and these delays do render uncertain whether the bridge repairs — if they are, ultimately, completed — would conclude before winter.”
BCA Vice President Michael Harris updated the board at its meeting last week and said that work on the bridge could still be completed in the fall, but that window is quickly closing.
The district has subsidized Clinton County Public Transportation bus fare for students in the past, Lebrun said.
“The Board of Education will certainly revisit this topic as winter approaches.”
Lebrun contends that the primary users of the footbridge are not K-12 students.
He said that on a couple occasions prior to the bridge’s closure, school staff simply stood by the bridge at random times to count passers-by.
“We found, even on a springtime school day, that the non-students far exceeded the students,” Lebrun added.
“Obviously, throughout July and August, the entirety of the bridge use is not related to student commutes.”
Lebrun allowed that this was not the most scientific approach, but showed that students are not the bridge’s primary users.
Still, “the district remains interested and willing to complete the needed repairs, as this pathway represents a valuable community resource,” he said.
“We remain committed to seeing it returned to public use.”
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