After committing up to $300,000 for a streetscape project in downtown Mount Airy, city officials have learned that a local company tapped for the job has decided to leave it by the wayside.
Sowers Construction Co. was revealed to have submitted the lowest base bid for the effort on Market Street, when proposals from interested companies were opened in early March. But the project became mired in debate afterward, centered on cost and other issues, and was only settled on June 1 when the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners voted to spend the $300,000.
On the heels of that meeting — three months after the bid opening — another development occurred which could be viewed as a setback, as described by City Engineer Mitch Williams, who has helped coordinate the plans.
“Sowers has moved on to other jobs,” Williams told the city council during a budget meeting held at the end of last week, which also included an update on the Market Street plan involving aesthetic and other improvements. The company effectively has washed its hands of the project, as indicated by the engineer, coinciding with the expiration of a deadline.
This is requiring the city government to advertise for a new round of bids from interested contractors — in the hope that prices quoted during the winter will hold up now.
“You don’t know what we’re going to end up with once you re-bid,” Mayor David Rowe told the commissioners during the budget meeting regarding the cost proposal that might arise.
The outcome will be known on June 28, when bids are scheduled to be opened for the work on Market Street — located one street west of North Main Street. It has attracted several new businesses recently, including a craft brewery, and officials believe it has tourism and festival potential, while also being near the former Spencer’s Inc. industrial property being redeveloped.
$300,000 threshold eyed
During the June 1 meeting, Williams and city Public Works Director Jeff Boyles were instructed to develop a plan that would involve spending no more than $300,000 on Market Street, compared to a potential $375,000 price tag earlier eyed.
This was to involve negotiations with Sowers Construction to determine if its prices from last winter were still current, which subsequently disclosed the company’s decision to abandon the effort.
However, Williams said the updated plan that resulted will cost $300,000, $301,232 to be exact, due to an expectation that city crews will perform work including demolishing an old concrete street underneath Market Street — a cost earlier put at $50,000.
“With the city doing the demolition, we feel confident that we can get it down to about $300,000,” the engineer said of the figure for the re-bid estimate.
It includes base-bid items totaling $214,756, such as truncated domes, removal decorative bollards to close the street for special events, stamped asphalt crosswalks, brick paver banding, 6-inch “Mount Airy granite” curbing, a scored concrete sidewalk and other features.
Additional work to be done by other entities includes decorative lighting by Duke Energy, at a cost of $60,000, landscaping ($10,000, by city personnel) and a $21,476 contingency fund to cover unforeseen expenses.
The mayor expressed concern about the role of city workers, saying it still represents a cost.
However, Commissioner Shirley Brinkley said she viewed their involvement as making use of crews on the payroll. “These people here daily are already here to work.”
Williams said one question mark surrounded the use of granite curbing rather than less-costly concrete curbing.
But Commissioner Dean Brown provided an immediate answer to that question during the budget meeting, which no one else disputed.
“Mount Airy was known as the Granite City before Andy Griffith was ever dreamed of,” Brown said in advocating using the town’s namesake building material as included in the $301,232 cost estimate.
“People are amazed at the granite houses, the buildings downtown,” he continued. Brown further pointed out that granite curbing has been employed for previous municipal projects, including one recent one to refurbish a parking lot beside the Mount Airy Post Office.
“We need to continue that tradition,” Brown said of a mystique that also includes the world’s largest open-face granite quarry at nearby Flat Rock which visitors are “inspired by” when seeing it for the first time.
“Mount Airy granite is known all around the world,” Brown said.
“When Andy is long-gone, Mount Airy will still be known as the Granite City.”
“Killing this project”
Commissioner Jon Cawley also used the occasion of last week’s budget meeting to comment on the seemingly endless debate and delays for a project that has drawn support from Market Street property owners at recent council meetings.
“When I voted (on June 1), I was voting to spend $300,000 to put this project to work,” Cawley said while questioning board members’ continued haggling over individual components including lighting, which Commissioner Jim Armbrister advocated eliminating during the latest discussion.
“We’re going to be bogged down forever if we talk about $50,000 or $60,000 for lighting,” Cawley said.
“We’re killing this project and the enthusiasm (for it) with endless debate.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.