After posing questions and concerns regarding improvements to a heavily used parking lot downtown, the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners voted 5-0 Thursday afternoon to proceed with the project.
The board awarded a contract for $182,327 to Sowers Construction Co. of Mount Airy to rehabilitate the city-owned lot located between Brannock & Hiatt Furniture and Old North State Winery in the 400 block of North Main Street. Funding also was included to cover contingencies, or unforeseen problems, for a total project price of $200,000.
While money for the improvements had been earmarked in the 2016-2017 municipal budget approved last year, Thursday’s decision wasn’t exactly a slam-dunk.
Board members questioned the certainty of ending up with a stable parking area on a patch of ground with a history of instability, among other questions, including why bids from only two contractors were received and one was more than $120,000 under the other.
Everyone is in agreement that the lot is in bad shape. The site has greatly deteriorated in recent years, including failing pavement containing cracks and potholes and which also sags in some places.
“Obviously, the current state of the lot is uneven — it’s unsafe,” said Randy Collins, the CEO of the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce, who expressed support for the improvements during a public forum portion of Thursday’s meeting.
“I’m not an attorney, but in my opinion, I think it’s a possible liability for the city,” Collins added, should someone be injured in a fall or other mishap as a result.
Collins said parking facilities are in great demand downtown, and the chamber wants to make sure a safe, stable lot will be there for visitors.
The land the parking lot sits on was once the site of multiple businesses, including Samet Furniture Co., which burned in the mid-1980s.
After the space was cleared from the fire, the parking lot was developed in the empty space, with debris filling the basement areas of the buildings destroyed, according to Thursday’s discussion.
And that seemed to be the source of much of the concerns leveled by council members.
“I want to get a feeling of the stability we want to wind up with,” Commissioner Jim Armbrister said in posing technical questions to city Public Works Director Jeff Boyles.
“Will this construction suffice for what we need?”
Armbrister wondered if the larger of the two bids — a $302,334 offer from PCS Construction Services of Mount Airy — reflected more excavation that might be needed than what is to be provided with the low proposal from Sowers Construction Co.
“The bids are apples to apples — there’s a set of quantities they bid on,” the public works director replied.
Boyles also attempted to assure council members that the work at hand will be thorough.
“The contractor will have geotechnical engineers on site,” he added of the project, which will include digging about 7 feet down to hit solid ground while removing all the fill material.
Having engineers on site to ensure this occurs appealed to Commissioner Jon Cawley.
“It’s nice to have that confidence,” he said of efforts to ensure a stable parking lot.
In response to a question from Commissioner Shirley Brinkley about why only two bids were received for the job, the public works director explained that no formal bidding process is required for projects costing less than $500,000.
“By law, you can just call around,” Boyles said of the informal procedure used.
And there are many reasons why bid figures can vary greatly, added Boyles, which was echoed by Mayor David Rowe, who heads a construction firm.
These can include not having subcontractors lined up for certain tasks, or how busy a contractor might be at a particular time.
The parking lot rehabilitation effort will include undercutting and repairing the failing asphalt, adding granite curbing and wheel stops and installing new landscaping and sidewalks.
While the lot now contains 36 spaces, four will be added to that through the project which will include a more efficient layout being implemented, Boyles has said.
Decorative lighting and landscaping, an estimated $30,000 cost, was not part of the contract award the commissioners considered Thursday.
“We may do the landscaping in-house,” Boyles told the board before its unanimous vote.
Plans call for the work to begin in early March and be done around mid-April, weather permitting.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.