By Bill Kirk
---- — ANDOVER — The Cormier Youth Center, scheduled for a ground-breaking next week, has hit another speed bump, which could potentially turn into a roadblock.
The long-awaited building, first proposed some 20 years ago as a privately funded, $1.5 million facility in West Andover, has ballooned into a $5.6 million public/private project near the downtown Doherty Middle School.
Five bids came in last week, ranging from $4.3 million to $5.4 million. But the low-bidder, G&R Construction of Quincy, apparently made a clerical error in its bid and is now trying to revoke it. And the second-lowest bid, at $4.6 million, may put the project over-budget.
Town officials, however, remain confident that even if they are forced to go with the higher of the two bids, the project will be started next week.
“We’ll keep working the numbers,” said Andrea Zaimes, vice chairwoman of the Andover Youth Foundation, the organization paying for about half of the $5.6 million project. “We’re getting a shovel in the ground either way. The details of the funding are not final yet.”
In fact, even the low-bid came in slightly higher than hoped, prompting Youth Foundation officials to tap into a $150,000 grant it received from the Rogers Foundation. Zaimes said the youth group had hoped to use that money to pay for operating expenses once the building is complete.
“We were hoping to keep that money in the bank so we could pay to manage the building or for add-alternates,” she said, referring to additional items outside the base bid, such as kitchen and multi-purpose room build-outs.
The Rogers Foundation money is a three-year grant worth $50,000 a year. The construction budget includes the first $50,000 payment.
Zaimes said if the cost goes up again because a higher bid is used, “we will be working with other donors” to get more money.
Thomas Watkins, the Andover purchasing agent, said Robert Morel of G&R Construction sent him an email saying the bud his company submitted “is $400,000 lower than it should have been.”
He said Morel met with members of the Youth Center Building Committee and went back to his company to see if there was any way he could trim other costs to meet his original bid.
“We asked him to go back and look at the numbers to see if he can make up the difference,” Watkins said. “They are a great company. We’d like to work with them.”
Yesterday, Morel met with Watkins and several other town officials to try to hammer out an agreement that would preserve his low bid. Watkins could not be reached yesterday afternoon to say whether he was successful in getting Morel to keep his bid at $4.3 million.
If G&R decides to pull out of the process, the town may be allowed to keep the 5 percent deposit the company made with the bid, which comes to about $200,000.
Using the second-lowest bidder, meanwhile, also has its share of problems.
At a recent Finance Committee meeting, Paul Fortier, the committee’s liaison to the Andover Youth Foundation, said the $4.6 million bid, which came from Dagel Electrical Construction Corp. of Melrose, may require using some of the 10 percent contingency budgeted for the project.
“There is an initiative to change the contingency from 10 percent to something lower than that,” he said at the meeting.
But Zaimes said her group hasn’t even discussed that option yet.
Youth Center Building Committee Chairman Chris Huntress said even with the second-highest bid, “we will still have substantial contingency and we will still be able to move forward.”
He said the 10 percent contingency is part of the agreement between the Andover Youth Foundation and the Board of Selectmen and would have to be changed by amending the youth center agreement
Selectman Paul Salafia said he was confident AYF would come up with the money.
“They have other avenues so the project will move forward,” Salafia said. “I’m not at all worried.”