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Brainerd City Council: Changing it up

Change order requests for an ongoing water and sewer project generated extensive discussion at Monday night's Brainerd City Council meeting. The council considered three change orders for the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport utility extension proj...

Workers from Northern Dewatering work to clear a corridor for water and wastewater pipes through Lum Park earlier in April. The work is being done as part of the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport utility extension project. (Steve Kohls/Brainerd Dispatch)
Northern Dewatering works at clearing a corridor for water and wastewater pipes through Lum Park earlier in April. The work is being done as part of the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport utility extension project. (Steve Kohls/Brainerd Dispatch)

Change order requests for an ongoing water and sewer project generated extensive discussion at Monday night's Brainerd City Council meeting.

The council considered three change orders for the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport utility extension project, approving one and rejecting two. These were the third, fourth and fifth change orders for the project.

The first two change orders for the project had been approved with little discussion. The first change order, resulting in a contract cost increase of $9,750, was approved on a 4-3 vote on May 16. The change order constituted constructing an air release manhole, which had not been in the construction plans.

Council members Kelly Bevans and Mary Koep and council President Gary Scheeler voted against the motion to approve the first change order. Bevans said he wouldn't support the first change order because of reasons he had mentioned previously, but noted the manhole was needed.

The second change order, unanimously approved on July 5, resulted in a decrease of $775 in the contract cost. It was an adjustment in the lump sum prices for jack/bore operations where utilities crossing Highway 210. It was approved with no discussion.

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The fifth change order, unanimously approved Monday night, resulted in a decrease of $260,792 in the contract cost. It was to document the cost difference of a design change from gravity sewer to a directional drilled force main in an area where there is concrete rubble.

The third and fourth change orders generated much discussion among the council members. The third change order, for extra equipment and work associated with moving a large rock blocking the boring of the water casing under Highway 210, would have resulted in an increase of $88,037 in the contract cost. The fourth change order, for extra work associated with the removal of concrete rubble necessary to construct about 800 feet of water main, would have resulted in an increase of $27,490 in the contract cost.

Explaining the issue, Bevans said it could be argued the contractor, Tom's Backhoe Service, assumed the risk of running into obstacles like rubble and boulders while boring and shouldn't charge extra to remove those unforeseen obstacles. But also, the contractor is using removal techniques that cost more money, he said, and has the right to ask to be compensated for the extra cost.

"There's some things that have happened during construction and because of methodologies chosen by the contractor, he's requesting that we absorb that additional cost," Bevans said.

City Engineer Jeff Hulsether noted it's up to the contractor to choose their own method for completing a contract. The method the contractor chose was based on his understanding of the conditions at the work site, he said.

"They're making the claim that there are changed conditions which are impacting his method," Hulsether said.

The large rock in change order three and the concrete rubble in change order four weren't identified in any plan documents, Hulsether said. It could be argued the contractor should have done more research to identify the concrete rubble, he said, but the soil borings the city completed didn't identify the rubble.

Scheeler said it's common for contractors in Minnesota to run into rock and rubble while boring and contractors understand it's a part of the job. It's also possible for a contractor to obtain their own soil borings before bidding on a contract, he said, in order to get more information about what they might run into during the project.

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"The soil borings done by our engineering staff is only for engineer's estimate," Scheeler said. "And they should never, ever tell contractors before the contract."

Scott Hedlund, project engineer from Short Elliott Hendrickson, said the engineering consultants recommend all the change orders for the project. He also clarified change orders three and four are distinctly different. Like any project, costs are associated with removing unforeseen obstacles like the concrete rubble in change order four, he said.

"That's just the cost of installing pipe," Hedlund said.

The large rock involved in change order three has to be dealt with, said Dave Reese, consultant with Widseth Smith Nolting. It's also difficult to determine who is at fault and who would have known about the large rock beforehand, he said.

"We think it's a valid change order," Reese said.

When the bids were opened for the project, there was "considerable discussion" about the fact there would be high risk for the contractor working on the project, council member Sue Hilgart said.

"We granted that with them fully indicating they didn't know what was going to be there," Hilgart said.

City Administrator Jim Thoreen asked what happens if change orders three and four are not approved. Hedlund responded the contractor can make another attempt at having the council approve the changes. The next steps are outlined in the contract, he said, and could include something like arbitration.

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"Basically, the costs will go up," Hedlund said.

Tom's Backhoe Service is an experienced contractor, Koep said, and should be held to the price he bid the project for.

"This is not a novice, this a person who's done many, many jobs," Koep said.

A motion to deny change orders three and four was approved on a 5-2 vote, with council members Gabe Johnson and Dave Pritschet voting against the motion.

SPENSER BICKETT may be reached at 218-855-5859 or spenser.bickett@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/spenserbickett .

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