After months of discussion and sometimes-heated debate, Mount Airy officials have approved spending nearly $300,000 for a major upgrade of Market Street — a downtown area enjoying a recent resurgence of business growth.
However, in keeping with the tone of earlier actions regarding the streetscape project, Thursday night’s decision by the city board of commissioners was not unanimous and somewhat contentious — as evidenced by a 4-1 vote.
The purpose of the project is to improve the appearance of Market Street, which is considered to have enormous tourism potential with a craft brewery and other businesses located there.
It will include the installation of granite curbing, a scored (or decorative) concrete sidewalk with brick paver banding, decorative lighting, storm-drainage improvements to correct recent flooding problems and new asphalt pavement for a present rough street.
The commissioners had voted on June 1, also in a 4-1 decision, to set a $300,000 ceiling for the project that earlier had a potential price tag of $375,000. This followed several months of debate in which there were questions about spending so much money for a 400-foot street, and the precedent this might create for property owners elsewhere demanding similar improvements.
Meanwhile, delays caused by that indecision led to a local contractor that had submitted a low construction bid for the work during the winter to withdraw its participation. This forced city officials to seek a new round of bids, which were opened on June 28 from three companies in contention.
The low proposal received from PCS Construction Services Inc. of Mount Airy for $265,400 required some tweaking in order to conform to the $300,000 limit, due to separate costs for additional items sought. Included is decorative lighting to be provided by Duke Energy, a $60,000 expense.
In order to make the numbers work, the planned installation of the granite curbing and demolition of an old concrete street and sidewalk was shifted to city public works crews. This reduced the contract price to PCS by $60,000, to $205,400.
However, adding the cost for the decorative lighting, the $14,000 expense of granite curb material, landscaping ($5,000) and contingency funds of $14,540 to cover any unforeseen problems, the total project price rose to $298,940.
Although the majority of board members were acceptable to that final cost package, Commissioner Jim Armbrister cast the lone “no” vote Thursday night, which he also did on June 1 when the board approved the $300,000 ceiling.
As he has throughout the process, Armbrister questioned the validity of the numbers presented.
“I guess my question is ‘why?”’ he said in expressing disdain for how the work by city crews figures into the equation.
“If we put a cap of $300,000 (on the project), why is that not part of the cost?”
City Manager Barbara Jones responded that municipal personnel and equipment have been used for various other projects in the past to supplement work by private companies, but has never been included as part of the official cost.
However, Jones acknowledged that while municipal workers already are on the job being paid, devoting time to such projects does take away from work they otherwise would be performing.
Armbrister said he was troubled by the “bottom line” issue of setting the $300,000 limit for a project that actually will cost more counting the city workers’ involvement. “It’s all coming out of the taxpayers’ pot.”
But Commissioner Jon Cawley pointed out that city personnel have devoted time to other efforts in the past which would be difficult to quantify, such as that involved with the Spencer’s redevelopment project near Market Street. “We don’t do it any other time,” Cawley said of breaking out those expenses from contract work awarded.
“For the life of me, I can think of no situation where we’ve pulled out those figures,” he said.
Cawley also cited the urgency of the need to finally put the Market Street renovations to bed. “We’re dying on the vine — we need to do something.”
“I guess I’m just making a point,” Armbrister said near the end of the discussion before the 4-1 vote.
Thursday night’s meeting was attended by some of the Market Street business operators, two of whom spoke during a public forum in support of the project finally being done. They cited continuing concerns with flooding on the street during heavy rains and the structural damages posed.
Despite his vote against the $298,940 expenditure, Armbrister said at the end of the meeting that he was excited about the work on Market Street which is expected to begin soon.
The city’s at-large commissioner explained afterward that his vote reflected dissatisfaction with the way the numbers were arranged, not the streetscape concept itself.
“I’m very supportive of the project.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.